Colapinto/Dr Money

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Wed Jun 07 2000 - 00:59:44 MDT

Just wondering if anyone else has had a chance to read John Colapinto's
fascinating, heartbreaking (and rhetorically loaded) book AS NATURE MADE
HIM, about the famous case of the twin boy who lost his penis during a
botched circumcision, was then castrated, surgically sex-reassigned and
raised as a girl. His sponsor, Doc Money, claimed for years this was a
triumph of adaptation. It became the classic instance cited endlesly in
feminist and poststrucural `social construction' texts and courses. In
fact, the poor kid was a psychological mess, and finally came out in
adolescence as a male (and now married, with adopted kids).

The argument urged in the book (so far; I'm only halfway thru) is what
seems to me the obvious one: once the brain has been dimorphised into the
male developmental cascade in utero and infancy, nurture can't re-set all
the implicit behavioral templates, or many of the physiological ones, even
in the absence of testicles.

This case, however, fails to address the matter of eunuchs and more
especially castrati, where I assume boy singers were lopped exactly because
their voices thereafter mostly retained their soprano beauty (unlike
Brenda/David, whose voice changed without added hormones). My working guess
is that the history of castrati we see might be the result of several
intervening filter effects: say, the sweetest singers are those boys
already (somewhat) feminised in utero; the only castrati who make it into
the annals are the ones who voices don't inconveniently crack anyway, the
rest being chucked out...

In particular, I'd like to hear Loree Thomas's take on this.


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