Nurture vs. Nature has been a topic of discussion among the scientific community for as long as science has been around. If raised a certain way can people or animals turn out differently than if they were not? Can you raise a person to act a certain way and become that way even if their genes are telling them to do the exact opposite? That is what the fundamental question is at the base of this book, As Nature Made Him; The Boy Who was Raised as a Girl.
Both Ron and Janet Reimer were raised in the Mennonite faith/culture. Ron left to live on his own when he was in his late teens and this is when he met Janet. Both Ron and Janet had a lot in common so they got along well right away and not long after dating Ron proposed to Janet. They were happily married and on August 22, 1965 Janet gave birth to two twin boys, Bruce and Brian Reimer. The twins were both healthy and normal but one day Janet observed that they were having trouble peeing. They would cry and appear to be in great discomfort when they urinated and so she took them to the doctor at the Hospital in Winnipeg Canada where the boys were born. The doctor told them that a simple circumcision procedure would fix the problem. The night of the boy’s procedure Janet got a call that said that there had been an accident and she and Ron needed to come to the hospital. Shortly after arriving at the hospital they learned that their son Brian’s penis had been burnt off and was no longer functional. They were told that their son could go through phallic reconstruction. This would mean that extra flesh would be farmed from his thigh and abdomen to create a makeshift penis. The penis would not resemble, look, or function like a normal penis but Brian could still use it to go to the bathroom.
A few months after the accident however, Janet saw an interview with John Money, a psychologist who specializes in gender reassignment. He was being interviewed about transvestites and hermaphrodites. After seeing the interview Janet called Dr. Money and he asked to see Brian as soon as possible. Dr. Money gave the Reimers hope that there were other options they had in their son’s future. He talked to them about gender reassignment and perhaps putting their child through surgery to turn his shriveled up penis into a vagina and raise him not as a boy but instead as a girl. Dr. Money believed, “…psychologically, sexuality is undifferentiated at birth and that it becomes differentiated as masculine or feminine in the course of the various experiences of growing up.” (p. 33). Overall nurture could override nature when it came to being male or female. So with great deliberation the Reimers chose to go through with the operation and soon Brian Reimer was Brenda Reimer.
Brenda was raised like any other normal girl. She was dressed up in nice, lace covered dresses. She was given dolls and girly things to play with and was surrounded by a mother who would try to teach her girly things like baking and sewing. As Brenda got older though, it soon became apparent that she wanted nothing to do with these things. She was much more interested in playing with her brother’s toy trucks and things and she would always get in fights with boys at school. When she was younger it was easy for her parents to dismiss this as nothing more than tom boyishness.
Throughout her school years Brenda was a bit of a social outcast, none of the girls wanted to play with her because she wasn’t like them and none of the boys wanted to play with her because she was a girl. She didn’t fit in anywhere and this isolationism showed in her behavior and her schoolwork. She was not excelling in school at all and in the first grade was even held back. She never got good grades and didn’t get along with anyone, teachers or students alike. She would get in fights with girls and boys.
Brenda continued to go to yearly checkups with Dr. Money where he would ask her questions about her genitalia, her sexual fantasies, and her life at school and other things. It was very clear during these sessions that Brenda didn’t “act” or “feel” like a girl in any way. Dr. Money would ask her, “Do you feel like a girl?” Brenda would answer “no”. When asked one day to draw a picture of herself Brenda drew a stick figure. Dr. Money asked if it was a boy or a girl and Brenda answered “It’s a boy, I don’t feel like a girl.” David (who was then Brenda) recalls Dr. Money doing such unorthodox things during these counseling sessions. He would show her pornographic pictures and make her do sexual things with her brother and soon Brenda did not like going on these trips to visit Dr. Money. She would go into such a state of distress whenever the subject of their yearly visits arose that her parents had to bribe her with expensive trips to get her to go.
Overall the signs that the procedure was not working were everywhere. Brenda was not happy with who she was inside or out, her mother was clinically depressed and tried to commit suicide, her dad resorted to alcohol to solve his problems and Brenda’s brother Brian was rebelling to try and get the attention from his parents that was being taken up by Brenda. Eventually Brenda was told of the horrible accident and at age 15 she decided to have surgery to become male. How she was originally born.
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