John Colapinto

As Nature Made Him

  • 53-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 16 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a literary scholar with a Master's degree
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As Nature Made Him Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 53-page guide for “As Nature Made Him” by John Colapinto includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 16 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Nature and Nurture and Sex and Gender.

Plot Summary

John Colapinto’s 1999 book As Nature Made Him is an expansion of his award-winning 1997 Rolling Stone article on the medical scandal surrounding David Reimer. David, raised as Brenda under the auspices of famous sexologist and child psychiatrist Dr. John Money, transitions back to a male gender identity during his teenage years. After Dr. Milton Diamond reveals the failure of Money’s theory of gender neutrality at birth, David’s story raises serious questions in the medical community.

Colapinto begins his narration with David’s parents, Ron and Janet, a young Canadian couple faced with the results of their twin sons’ botched circumcisions. When they see Money on television, the couple decides to work with him to raise their son Bruce, whose penis has burned and disintegrated, as a girl. Trusting Money’s famous “theory of psychosexual neutrality at birth,” the couple invests themselves in raising their daughter, Brenda, with a strong sense of female identity (33).

As he follows Brenda’s troubled development, including traumatizing trips to Money’s Johns Hopkins laboratory, Colapinto also tracks the dominance of Money’s ideas in the medical field. Though one doctor, Milton Diamond, questions the basis of Money’s theory, Money continues to gain fame. Numerous children—both those who are born intersex and those with damaged genitalia—are treated following Money’s and Johns Hopkins’s protocol. Only after Brenda transitions to David can Diamond release the urgent information that Money’s keystone case of sex reassignment in an infant is a failure.

Brenda transitions to David as a teenager. Before this, she decides to be an “oddball,” a comfort developed in part through a strong relationship with her psychiatrist, Dr. Mary McKenty (165). As McKenty notes Brenda’s deep rejection of femininity, she encourages Ron and Janet, who have been plagued with depression and marital troubles, to share with Brenda the truth of her infancy. Their decision to share that truth with Brenda empowers her, almost immediately, to live life as a man.

Colapinto follows David’s journey—its triumphs and its challenges—to live life as a man. As the Reimer family finds some healing, David struggles with suicidal and depressive thoughts. But, as Milton Diamond’s study takes hold in the media, David has a chance to speak out on behalf of others who have experienced parallel traumas as a result of John Money’s theory.

Weaving together personal testimony, medical histories, public records, and videos from psychiatric meetings, Colapinto presents a holistic picture of the embodied realities and implications of medical study. His text apprehends the dominant vision of gender and sexuality as produced by nurture, suggesting a more balanced look, both in medicine and the general public, at the shaping effects of biology in determining who a person is and what their identity may be or become.

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Chapters 1-3