As Nature Made Him: A Book Review

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I have never done a book review before. So here goes.

This is a book review of a book called “As Nature Made Him; The boy who was raised as a girl”. Its a real-life story about the life of David Reimer. But first, let me copy-paste the info I got from elsewhere.

As Nature Made Him (John Colapinto)

This book is based on The True Story of John/Joan, orginally published in Rolling Stone. The so-called twins, or John/Joan case, is one of the most famous in modern medicine and the social sciences, cited repeatedly over the past thirty years as proof that our sense of being male or female is not inborn but primarily the result of how we are raised.The case set the precedent for sex reassignment as standard treatment for thousands of intersex children every year. But now David Reimer, the subject of this misguided experiment, has come forward to tell how it was a failure from the outset. Read chapter excerpt at MSNBC.

As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl by John Colapinto, HarperCollins (2000). (Amazon.com)

David Reimer (August 22, 1965 as Bruce Reimer – May 5, 2004) was a Canadian man who was born as a healthy male, but was sexually reassigned and raised as female after his penis was accidentally destroyed during circumcision. PsychologistJohn Money oversaw the case and reported the reassignment as successful, and as evidence that gender identity is primarily learned. Academic sexologist Milton Diamond later reported that Reimer never identified as female, and that he began living as male at age 15. Reimer later went public with his story to discourage similar medical practices. Due to years of severe depression, financial instability, and a dissolving marriage, he committed suicide. (Read more thanks to Wikipedia)

My 2 cents:

He was born Bruce and was twin brother to Brian. In the family’s culture, circumcising children at a tender age was the norm. So the two were circumcised. Bruce was the first of the two to be circumcised. The doctors used a new method to circumcise him. That method went terribly wrong and Bruce’s penis was destroyed. Actually it was burnt! They called it a botched circumcision. Bruce now only had a portion of his penis and bits of the scrotum. A doctor called John Money who was the pioneer in the sexuality of children advised them that, in keeping with his beliefs of the fact that nurture trumps nature, they should reassign the child to female as he would not have a normal life as a male without a penis. This was also concluded due to the fact that, in the medical world, it is said that its easier to dig a hole than to build a pole.

Growing up, Bruce, now Brenda, had a terrible child hood. It was clear from an early age that the reassignment failed miserably and that Brenda’s manly instincts took control over what she was being told to behave like; like a girl. Anything to convince her that she was a girl and girls behaved in a certain manner was futile. She was stronger than her brother Brian, she fought with boys in school and was even nicknamed “tom-boy” in school. She always had a ‘rough look’ and demeanour.

When Brenda reach pre-pubescent age, she was required to begin hormone replacement therapy in order to begin feminizing her body and avert any possible masculinization. She refused incessantly. By this age she had been through several psychiatrist who all had one goal in mind: to nurture her into a proper girl, in accordance to John Money’s instructions and belief.

Another doctor on the other side of the country had been challenging Dr. Money’s beliefs about nurture over nature and he was of the contrary opinion. His name was Dr. Milton Diamond. Dr. Diamond believed that nature tramped nurture every time and that there was no way a normal baby boy could be ‘nurtured’ into a girl. He believed that ones true sense of being either male or female (or neither or both) was intrinsically hard wired into their brain.

After wars between doctors, psychiatrists and her parents, Brenda at age 14 grew tired of living a lie and made the switch from Brenda to David. He picked the name because of the bible character’s ability to withstand magnanimous trials and tribulations. He went ahead to join high school and was a much happier kid than ever before.

After spending almost half his life living a lie, David Reimer managed to get a wife and children. In the book, he portrays himself as a happier man. His message is clear. One cannot ‘make’ a child to either male or female. Its the child that knows themselves. For thirty years, the medical fraternity had been getting it wrong. Children born with ambiguous genitalia or boys who suffered botched circumcisions were being reassigned to girl hood and hence most of them were being thrown into pits of hell!

I loved this book. It was the first I had read in a long long time. I was completely moved by it and I absolutely recommend it where you can find it.

*Over & Out*

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A Case of The Third Sex

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(You’ll probably need a cuppa coffe o sumthn coz this is quite long!)

In Kenya, and generally most parts of the world, we only know of two sexes: male and female. There is no ifs and no buts. BUT, there are people who identify with something different other than male or female. Now, I am no guru in this nor am I an expert. But I will give my five cents (adjusted for inflation) worth. I have had the privilege of meeting and interacting with intersex people and I somehow have some idea about their issues. I also did a post highlighting these factors earlier on but this one is specifically to address some issues I felt I needed to talk about.

Before anything else, lets get some of the definitions clear. According to Wikipedia,

Intersex in humans refers to intermediate or atypical combinations of physical features that usually distinguish female from male. This is usually understood to be congenital, involving chromosomal, morphologic, genital and/or gonadal anomalies, such as diversion from typical XX-female or XY-male presentations, e.g., sex reversal (XY-female, XX-male), genital ambiguity, sex developmental differences. An intersex individual may have biological characteristics of both the male and female sexes. Intersexuality as a term was adopted by medicine during the 20th century, and applied to human beings whose biological sex cannot be classified as clearly male or female. Intersex was initially adopted by intersex activists who criticize traditional medical approaches to sex assignment and seek to be heard in the construction of new approaches.

Thus, from the above we see that basically intersex persons are persons born with atypical or ambiguous genitalia. So that we can be at par, lets break that down further. Atypical means: “Not usual in a normal condition; opposite of typical”. Intersex conditions are varied. But one thing is clear, the gender marker, here (because of the way we are socially brought up and taught) is the genitalia. Now if the genitalia does not look like the usual male or female one, then its atypical. Ambiguous means: “Open to multiple interpretations; Vague and unclear”. If the genitalia does not resemble that of either male or female and looks like either, or, both, none, mixed, varied…..you get my drift? Its ambiguous. Its not clear. Its vague.

The above basically points out the onset of intersex condition. Such children born intersex face a plethora of difficulties, some of which I will cite here in no order or form.

Can you imagine a kid who is born with genitalia that resembles more of male than of female but under further scrutiny it is discovered that the kid passes urine through an opening under that which is supposed to be the penis? Parents freak out and wonder what to do. The doctor prescribes that an operation be performed on it immediately because “we don’t want it to be a social pariah”. The kid is assigned a female identity and the small penis is trimmed down to look like a clitoris and the what would have been the scrotum is opened up to look like a vagina. They cannot create a vaginal canal since the kid is too young. The said kid grows up and begins to socialize. In due course, it begins displaying more male characteristics than female. But since the parents want “a perfect family” and don’t want any embarrassment (considering intersex persons are viewed as a curse in many societies), they don’t disclose to anyone about the kid’s intersex condition and brush off the kids behaviour as wanja kihii (in Kikuyu) or tom boyish behaviour, a “phase that will pass”. As the kid grows, she indeed develops breasts because she had some estrogen in her body but is now even more of a ‘boy’ than ever. She even knows (inside) that she is different but cannot pin point what the issue is. And the parents still don’t disclose this to her. When she grows older she learns of her intersex condition and reprimands her parents for deciding her fate for her. She tells them that she has never felt as being a girl and she wants to be who she really is, a boy. Now, by this time, she already has gotten an Identity Card that shows a female name. But even looking at her, she looks a whole lot like a boy than a girl, her mannerisms, speech, character, and even her likings and desires are inclined towards male than female. One could deduce that she is just tom boy but she knows this isn’t so. She knows she is and has always been a boy. What would you do? How would you help her/him?

This is but an example of what goes on in the intersex community. Just a drop in the vast ocean. I liken this short story to that of Richard Muasya. He is an intersex inmate at Kamiti Prison who seeks special recognition of the fact that he is neither male nor female, despite the fact that he identifies as male. I understand when some people say that its not a big issue and that KHRC and others could concentrate on more pressing matters but I beg to differ, albeit not entirely. There are many issues that need tackling and that are being tackled. Not all of us do the same thing. We each have something we go for, we do, we fight for, we want to achieve. This is a human rights issue and Muasya is but one of the many intersex people we have in Kenya. He is brave enough to come forward and say outright that  gender binary is and has always made intersex people be discriminated against and ostracised by society simply because “they don’t fit in”. While people can say that he identifies as a man and thus should not complain, he indeed complains because, far from the fact that he was jailed for a crime (funny, one of the charges was rape. It was dropped since he could’t possibly rape anyone due to his intersex condition) he has faced other problems in life (see link).

Such are the kinds of issues faced by such people. Consider one who has a proper functioning penis and testes. Because at first it didn’t look like a penis and the testes were un-descended, it was decided that its a she. Only later to discover, as the above story, that she can not only impregnate a woman, but is also menstruating! Furthermore, her true identity is he. Thus, this man, is forced to live a life of female-hood and worse, endure the pain of menses like women! Imagine that! Again, since he was raised as a girl, all his documents including identification ones, have a female name and bear an “F”. Considering he looks nothing like a woman (this is an assumption based on what I’ve read/heard) it is very difficult to convince people he is the she indicated in his ID card.

This is why such a case is important. It is imperative that the government considers such persons and make a ruling such as that of India which recognises the unique identities of intersex and transsexual individuals. By having an “O” for Other, it paves way for covering issues surrounding ambiguous and/or unique gender identities.

I shall find out more and share. I am very passionate about these matters and it pains me to know that society still regards them as social misfits, freaks of nature, taboos to be killed at birth and many other gross violations of their human right.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are mine alone and I have made references through links. As mentioned earlier, I am not an expert and therefore these views should not be taken as expert/professional opinions.

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