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When Brenda heard the news, truth about the botched circumcision she cut her hair and changed her name to David. In order to undo the changes David’s body had gone through as Brenda with estrogen therapy, he had a double mastectomy as well as surgeries to construct male genitals, and began receiving testosterone injections.

A Tale of Sex Science and Abuse

The Boy Who Was Raised as A Girl

On 22 August 1965 Janet Reimer was granted her dearest wish: she gave birth to twins. The two boys, Brian and Bruce, were healthy babies, but they would lead tragic lives, blighted by one scientist’s radical theory. Bruce would later rename himself David.

David Reimer was one of the most famous patients in the annals of medicine. The story of David is a terribly sad one. He had also been both a boy and a girl, thanks to one of the darker episodes in the history of pseudoscientific hubris. David was born as a boy named Bruce. He had an identical twin, Brian. David had to undergo a transformation that he had no say in when he was just a baby.

David, and his brother each had a minor medical problem involving his penis, and a doctor decided to treat the problem with circumcision. The doctor botched the circumcision on David, using an inappropriate method and accidentally burning off virtually David’s entire penis. A malfunction in the doctor’s equipment (electrocautery needle) caused the needle to burn Reimer’s penis from tip to base.

The Reimers were left with a dilemma: a son with no penis. They visited several medical experts who assured them that penile reconstruction would prove worthless. The Reimers were at a loss as to how to help David. Most of his penis was burned off, and reconstructive surgery was too primitive at the time to restore it. Dr. John Money, a sexologist at Johns Hopkins University, persuaded Reimer’s parents to have their son completely castrated and raised as a girl that they renamed Brenda.

David’s parents (farm adolescents barely out of their teens) were referred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, home of the world’s leading expert in gender identity, psychologist Dr. John Money, who recommended a surgical sex change, from male to female. David’s parents eventually agreed to the radical procedure, believing Dr. Money’s claims that this was their sole hope for raising a child who could have heterosexual intercourse—albeit as a sterile woman with a synthetic vagina and a body feminized with estrogen supplements.

At the advice of psychologist John Money at Johns Hopkins University, David’s parents agreed to have him “sex reassigned” and made into a girl via surgical, hormonal, and psychological treatments—i.e., via the system Money advocated for intersex children.

Money had been working on a theory – that any boy could be raised as a girl. He believed that Nurture was more important than Nature when it came to gender roles. The Reimer twins provided Money with a perfect sample, two twin boys (one believing they were a girl) raised by the same people in the same way. This allowed Money to experiment on Bruce while using Brian as a control.

For many years, John Money claimed that David (known in the interim as “Brenda”) turned out to be a “real” girl with a female gender identity. Money used this case to bolster his approach to intersex —the approach that is still used throughout much of the U.S. and developed world—one that relies on the assumption that gender identity is all about nurture (upbringing), not nature (inborn traits), and that gender assignment is the key to treating all children with atypical sex anatomies.

As it turns out, Money was lying.

For Dr. Money, David was the ultimate experiment to prove that nurture, not nature, determines gender identity and sexual orientation—an experiment all the more irresistible because David was an identical twin. His brother, Brian, would provide the perfect matched control, a genetic clone raised as a boy.

David’s infant “sex reassignment” was the first ever conducted on a developmentally normal child. (Money had helped to pioneer the procedure in hermaphrodites.) And according to Money’s published reports through the 1970s, the experiment was a success. The twins were happy in their assigned roles: Brian a rough and tumble boy, his sister Brenda a happy little girl. Money was featured in Time magazine and included a chapter on the twins in his famous textbook Man & Woman, Boy & Girl.

The reality was far more complicated. At age 2, Brenda angrily tore off her dresses. She refused to play with dolls and would beat up her brother and seize his toy cars and guns. In school, she was relentlessly teased for her masculine gait, tastes, and behaviors. She complained to her parents and teachers that she felt like a boy; the adults—on Dr. Money’s strict orders of secrecy—insisted that she was only going through a phase. Meanwhile, Brenda’s guilt-ridden mother attempted suicide; her father lapsed into mute alcoholism; the neglected Brian eventually descended into drug use, pretty crime, and clinical depression.

When Brenda was 14, a local psychiatrist convinced her parents that their daughter must be told the truth. David later said about the revelation: “Suddenly it all made sense why I felt the way I did. I wasn’t some sort of weirdo. I wasn’t crazy.”

David Reimer became the subject of a study that became known as the John/Joan case in the 60’s and 70’s. His mother said she was still angry with the Baltimore doctor who persuaded her and her husband, Ron, to give female hormones to their son and raise him as a daughter. As he grew up as Brenda in Winnipeg, he faced cruelty from the other children. ”They wouldn’t let him use the boys’ washroom or the girls’,” Ms. Reimer recalled. ”He had to go in the back alley.”

For fourteen years since his birth, David was brought up as a girl called Brenda and made to attend traumatic, therapy sessions for sex reassignment. It all came out when, in 1997, Milton Diamond, a sexologist, convinced David to tell his story to discourage doctors from doing the same to other children. After that, David went public about his predicament through Rolling Stone magazine, and later a book named As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl was published.

When still a baby, David, was circumcised to correct a condition called “phimosis”. However, the surgery failed resulting in irreparable damage to his penis.

Bruce Reimer and his identical twin Brian Reimer were taken to an urologist by his parents when they noticed something abnormal when the boys urinated. They were both diagnosed with phimosis and referred for circumcision at the age of just seven months. Phimosis is a condition in which the foreskin of a penis cannot be pulled back resulting in balloon-like swelling during urination and pain during erection but otherwise is harmless.

The boys, who lived in Winnipeg, Canada, were sent to the local hospital for a routine circumcision (i.e., surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis). Unfortunately the doctor in charge of the procedure was using electrical equipment, which malfunctioned several times. On the last trial, Bruce’s entire penis was burnt off. Bruce’s penis was so badly burnt during the operation and was beyond surgical repair so; the doctors chose not to operate on his brother Brian whose phimosis corrected itself without any surgery.

The family were totally devastated. In the Sixties plastic surgery was not an option: even today it is not recommended that newborns undergo penis reconstruction operations.

Ron and Janet Reimer had been seeking the advice of numerous specialists, but all agreed that Bruce would have to live without a penis.

It wasn’t until several months later that Janet and her husband, Ron, saw a television programme that gave them some hope. Dr John Money, a highly renowned sexologist, featured in a debate about sex change operations on transsexuals. He had brought a transsexual with him who was convincingly feminine looking.

Perhaps, thought Janet Reimer, this Doctor could help them. She wrote to Dr Money immediately. He responded swiftly and invited them to come and visit him in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr Money was a highly intelligent, well respected, charismatic individual.

When Brenda was nine years old, Dr Money advised the Reimers to have her undergo surgery to construct a vagina. Brenda protested and threatened to kill herself, and continued to be resistive to treatment.

At the time that the Reimers were coping with the mutilation of their son’s genitalia, the Johns Hopkins University psychologist, Dr Money was receiving considerable attention for his ideas on the biology of gender and sexuality. He promoted the theory that a child’s gender identity (i.e., the identification of the self as male or female) was determined by environmental variables such as the social conditions in which the child is raised. This idea is a form of the “nurture theory” of development. A competing view is the so-called “nature theory”; that is, the idea that a person’s innate qualities are determined solely by biological mechanisms. The psychologist was essentially advocating the view that a feminine identity could be developed simply by rearing a child as a girl. This possibility, together with the fact that the surgical construction of a vagina is less risky and less difficult than construction of a penis, compelled the Reimers to explore the possibility of changing Bruce’s gender and raising him as a girl. The Reimers arranged an appointment with the Johns Hopkins psychologist who concluded that Bruce was an ideal candidate for gender re-assignment. At 21 months of age, Bruce was subjected to castration (i.e., removal of the testicles) and his parents were told to raise him as a girl, but not to divulge this information to anyone including their sons. Following surgery, the Reimers returned home with their “new daughter,” who they named Brenda. They proceeded to raise her as a girl and not tell her about her medical history.

The family now called him Brenda and tried to treat him like a little girl.

Dr Money was the answer to the Reimers’ prayers, but they were the answer to his too. He had studied people known then as hermaphrodites, now referred to as intersex, who are physically both male and female. As it was surgically easier to turn these people into females, this was standard practice.

Dr Money had used case studies of hermaphrodites to show that there was a window of opportunity for surgery – a ‘gender gate’ – which lasted up to the age of two. During that period, he argued, if the parents chose the sex of the child, the way they brought it up would determine the child’s gender, not its physical characteristics. But until this point, Dr Money had never put his controversial theory into practice with a non-intersex child. Now he had the perfect and unplanned opportunity to do so: a set of identical twins, two biological boys, one of whom could be raised a girl.

When Brenda was five Dr Money started to publish her case – disguising her by referring to her as Joan/John – in his books. The case became a sensation. It was the proof that feminists in particular were looking for. It was proof, they argued, that there was no biological reason that boys are better at maths and that men should earn more than women.

Brenda’s twin Brian served as the perfect “control” for Money’s experiment, and before long he published papers on his “successful” work in transforming a biological boy into a girl. Money was lauded in public, hailed as a revolutionary physician in Time magazine, and credited with conquering new frontiers in pediatrics.

Nurture not nature determines whether we feel feminine or masculine. Widely cited in many text books, the case was a landmark study – hailed as proof of the overwhelming force of nurture – in spite of increasing evidence that hormones both in the womb and throughout a child’s life, play a huge part in an individual’s perception of themselves as masculine or feminine.

By the age of 14, Brenda had made several suicide attempts. A local psychiatrist recommended the Reimers tell their child the truth about the botched circumcision.

Meanwhile, back in Canada, things were not so good for the Reimer family. When she fought with her brother, it was clear that she was the stronger of the two.

Brenda behaved in a distinctly masculine fashion. She liked running and fighting and climbing and loathed playing with dolls. She had no friends and was increasingly lonely as her twin Brian was embarrassed to play with her in front of his other friends. Brenda hated going to visit Dr Money.

Dr. Money’s interest in testing his theories had some bizarre implications that some outsiders might consider to be borderline criminal.

He believed that one of the keys to developing a “healthy adult gender identity” was to expose the twins to pornography at a young age. As such, during his therapy sessions, he would show the twins images of nude children–both boys and girls–as well as adults engaged in sexual acts.

But Dr. Money went further than that, pushing the boundaries of what could be considered therapy. Another of his theories was that something he called “sexual rehearsal play” was important for gender development–for the twins, it meant that they would be imitating sexual situations appropriate to their “desired” gender.

At the age of six, the twins were made to practice “thrusting movements and copulation” by, for example, getting Brenda to “assume a position on all fours” as Brian placed his crotch against her buttocks from behind. Other times, Brenda was forced to lie on her back, legs spread wide, with Brian lying on top of her. Dr. Money took Polaroid photographs of the twins in these positions.

Of course, none of these highly sexual therapy sessions were run in the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Reimer.

Since the surgery and until her teenage years, Brenda had to urinate through a hole in her abdomen and was given oestrogen to encourage breast development.

Dr.Money insisted that to fully understand that she was a girl, she needed to grasp the difference between men and women, and frequently spoke to her about her genitalia. He took photographs of her and her brother naked. He tried to persuade her to have a vagina constructed, which, at the time, would have been made out of section of her bowel or else from the skin of her thigh, which would then be inserted into the pelvic region.

He showed her graphic photographs of a woman giving birth when she was seven years old in an attempt to get her to agree to having a ‘baby-hole’ made. He also suggested strongly that she take hormone tablets in order to make her grow breasts when she was 12. Other scientists, including Dr Money’s ex-students, argue that he did these things in the best possible interests for his patient – to make her believe that she was indeed a girl. Brenda however felt traumatised and became suicidal.

The David Reimer case also serves to reinforce the scientific hypothesis that sexual orientation is not one of choice. Sexual orientation is innate, not solely a result of environmental influences although the latter may have some bearing.

A Boy Living as a Girl

The  Reimers faithfully adhered to the gender re-assignment protocol, accepted their child as their daughter, and attempted to raise her as a “gentle lady.” In spite of their efforts, Brenda resisted this treatment and eventually became unmanageable. For example, Brenda frequently rejected girls’ toys, activities, and clothing. She would also mimic her father’s behaviours (e.g., shaving) as opposed to her mother’s behaviours (e.g., applying makeup). On the other hand, her mother reported that at times Brenda could act quite “feminine,” referring to the fact that the child was “neat and tidy.” As she grew older, Brenda complained that she felt like a boy and viewed her physical characteristics as more masculine than feminine. Her brother appears to have shared her impression, recalling that “the only difference between him [Brenda] and I was he had longer hair.” Brenda’s rejection of the feminine identity continued in middle school. In her fantasies she was a “big guy” with “lots of muscles” and a “slick car.” Even though she lacked a penis, Brenda repeatedly tried to stand while urinating and frequently tried to use the boys’ bathroom in school.

The other girls prevented her from using the girls’ bathroom. In response to teasing and harassment by other girls, Brenda fought back and was repeatedly punished for fighting. When Brenda was nine years old, the Johns Hopkins psychologist urged the Reimers to have Brenda undergo surgery to construct a vagina to replace her mutilated genitalia. The child protested strongly and threatened to kill herself if forced to submit to this treatment. She also resisted repeated attempts by doctors to force her into accepting a feminine identity. By the time Brenda was 14 years old, her behaviour had become so destructive (several suicide attempts) that a local psychiatrist convinced the Reimers to divulge the truth to their daughter. Upon hearing the details of her early childhood, Brenda cut her hair and began living as David. In order to re-capture the physical aspects of his masculine identity, David agreed to undergo a double mastectomy to remove breasts that had developed from estrogen treatments, a series of surgeries to construct male genitalia (a penis with plastic prosthesis and artificial testicles), and regular injections of testosterone to restore masculine body features.

One of the most difficult experiences Brenda faced due to her increasingly unusual looks and behaviours was rejection from her peers. She became a pariah during her elementary school years. From as early as kindergarten, she was a target for bullying by both male and female. “As [I’d ]walk by, they’d start giggling. Not one, but almost the whole class. It’d be like that every day. The whole school would make fun of [me] about one thing or another.” In her early teens [then] Brenda attended a technical high school. Right away her peers dubbed her Cave-woman and told her, “You’re a boy.” But it was her habit of urinating standing up that caused the greatest problem between Reimer and her schoolmates. The girls prevented her from using their bathroom. When she tried to use the boys’ room he was threatened with a knife. By December, she dropped out of school.

Along with struggling against emotional uncertainty about his life and his innate attraction to females, Reimer made no friends and was forcibly a loner. During puberty Reimer’s erroneous belief that she was a lesbian added to her emotional angst.

Reimer finally reached a point where she told his parents if he had to visit his psychologist Dr. Money anymore he would kill himself. It was then that her parents chose to tell her the truth about his gender. Surprisingly, Reimer took the news well.

Finally when she was 14, the family told her and Brian the truth. Brenda was intensely relieved, as she had felt she was going insane. Almost immediately she turned herself back into a boy and called herself David.

It answered a lot of difficult questions and he began to live his life as a male. He did not use his birth name of Bruce. Throughout his teens Reimer seemed well-adjusted and was much happier than he’d been as Brenda.

David soon embarked on the painful process of converting back to his biological sex. A double mastectomy removed the breasts that had grown as a result of estrogen therapy; multiple operations, involving grafts and plastic prosthesis, created an artificial penis and testicles. Regular testosterone injections masculinised his musculature.

In order to undo the changes David’s body had gone through as Brenda with estrogen therapy, he had a double mastectomy as well as surgeries to construct male genitals, and began receiving testosterone injections. David was able to acclimate to life as a male. He developed relationships with male peers, and began dating and having sexual relationships with females.

David had received compensation money for the circumcision and used this to pay for surgery to have a new penis constructed.

As David assumed his male status, he expressed many of the physical and behavioural traits of typical teenage boys. He was readily accepted by his male peers and engaged in sexual activities with young women. Yet David was depressed over what he believed was the impossibility of his ever marrying. He twice attempted suicide in his early 20s.

David eventuallymet and married a big-hearted Jane Fontane, who had three children of her own, but his dark moods persisted. He was plagued by shaming memories of the frightening annual visits to Dr. Money, who used pictures of naked adults to “reinforce” Brenda’s gender identity and who pressed her to have further surgery on her “vagina.”

On May 4, 2004, overwhelmed by the problems he was facing, David shot himself in the head with a sawn-off shotgun in a grocery store’s parking lot.

After Jane and David married, David became both a husband and stepfather. It was during this well-adjusted time in his life that Reimer discovered Dr. Money was still claiming that Reimer’s sex reassignment was highly successful. Money encouraged the medical and psychiatric communities to conduct the same procedures on children with genital deformities or ambiguous genitalia. Most likely it was due to two factors that Reimer chose to go public with his personal experience in an effort to contradict Money’s publications: he was secure within his marriage to a supportive spouse and he was determined to expose Dr Money as a fraud. Reimer took part in public television and magazine interviews such as The Rolling Stone.

When I say there was nothing feminine about David” Brian his brother told John Colapinto, a writer for Rolling Stone magazine, “I mean there was nothing feminine. She walked like a guy. She talked about guy things, didn’t give a crap about cleaning house, getting married, wearing makeup…. We both wanted to play with guys, build forts and have snowball fights and play army.”

“In the course of our interviews, David told me that he could never forget his nightmare childhood,” Colapinto wrote, “and he sometimes hinted that he was living on borrowed time.”

In public statements about his lifetime ordeal, David said he never got over what was done to him. “You can never escape the past,” David told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2000. “I had parts of my body cut away and thrown in a wastepaper basket. I’ve had my mind ripped away.”

When David was almost 30, he met Dr. Milton Diamond, a psychologist at the University of Hawaii and a long-time rival of Dr. Money. A biologist by training, Diamond had always been curious about the fate of the famous twin, especially after Money mysteriously stopped publishing follow-ups in the late 1970s. Through Diamond, David learned that the supposed success of his sex reassignment had been used to legitimize the widespread use of infant sex change in cases of hermaphroditism and genital injury. Outraged, David agreed to participate in a follow-up by Dr. Diamond, whose myth-shattering paper (co-authored by Dr. Keith Sigmundson) was published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in March 1997 and was featured on front pages across the globe.

I met David soon after, when he agreed to be interviewed by me for a feature story in Rolling Stone. He subsequently agreed to collaborate with me on a book about his life, As Nature Made Him, published in February 2000. In the course of our interviews, David told me that he could never forget his nightmare childhood, and he sometimes hinted that he was living on borrowed time.

John Colapinto, a writer for Rolling Stone magazine

Unfortunately, his relationship with his brother worsened. Brian had felt that David, as Brenda, had received all the attention when they were growing up; once he discovered that he was no longer the only boy in the family, he became extremely angry. It was the start of mental disturbance that would develop into schizophrenia. After two failed marriages, Brian died, possibly of a drug overdose, which may have been a suicide attempt.

Most suicides, experts say, have multiple motives, which come together in a perfect storm of misery. So it was with David. After his twin Brian died, David sank into a depression. Though the two had been estranged, David had, in recent months, taken to visiting Brian’s grave, leaving flowers and, at some point prior to his own suicide, a note.

David had never managed to complete his education and had to take semi-skilled work. He was made redundant and was unemployed for a year. He sold the movie rights to his story, but lost the money when a business man absconded with his investment. Stricken with grief for his brother, his marriage started to fail.

David was not easy to live with, given his explosive anger, his cyclical depressions, his fears of abandonment—all of which Jane weathered for almost 14 years. But with David spiralling ever deeper into sloth and despair, she told him on the weekend of May 2 that they should separate for a time. David stormed out of the house. Two days later, Jane received a call from the police, saying that they had found David but that he did not want her to know his location. Two hours after that, Jane got another call. This time the police told her that David was dead.

In the end, of course, it was what David was inclined to brood about that killed him. David’s blighted childhood was never far from his mind. Just before he died, he talked to his wife about his sexual “inadequacy,” his inability to be a true husband. Jane tried to reassure him. But David was already heading for the door.

On the morning of May 5, he retrieved a shotgun from his home while Jane was at work and took it into the garage. There, with the terrible, methodical fixedness of the suicide, he sawed off the barrel. David had returned to his parents’ house for a few days, before driving to a supermarket car park on 4 May 2004 and shooting himself in the head and, ended his sufferings forever. He was 38 years old.

How much of the Reimers’ misery was due to depression, and how much to the nightmare circumstances into which they had been thrown? David’s mutilation and his parents’ guilt were tightly entwined, multiplying the mental anguish to which the family members were already prone.

Years of follow-up visits with Money had also left him psychologically scarred, as the doctor used controversial — and borderline pedophilic — methods to reinforce his identity as a girl. Newspapers at the time pointed to other factors as major contributors to David’s suicide, and Colapinto pointed out that some of the obituaries and articles didn’t place any of the blame on Money or the medical decisions that impacted David’s life. Money, who died in 2006, “stopped commenting publicly on the case in 1980 and never acknowledged that the experiment was anything but a glowing success,” the Los Angeles Times noted. But his mother, Janet Reimer, told The New York Times that she believed her son wouldn’t have killed himself if not for the downward spiral that started with Money’s experiments.

“He managed to have so much courage,” Jane said of David. “I think he felt he had no options. It just kept building up and building up.”

Anyone familiar with David’s life would have understood that the real mystery was how he managed to stay alive for 38 years, given the physical and mental torments he suffered in childhood and that haunted him the rest of his life.

After David’s suicide, press reports cited an array of reasons for his despair: bad investments, marital problems, and his brother’s death two years earlier. Surprisingly little emphasis was given to the extraordinary circumstances of his upbringing. This was unfortunate because to understand David’s suicide, you first need to know his anguished history.

Dr Money argued that he cannot be held to blame because David did not accept a female gender identity. He says that the family delayed making a decision until their son was almost two, just before the gender gate was about to shut. Others, however, argue that he could have admitted he made a mistake when the case clearly was not working, for he continued to let people believe that it had been successful long after he had stopped seeing Brenda and she had become David. It is, perhaps above all, a cautionary tale of what may happen when a scientist falls in love with a beautiful theory and ignores the ugly facts.

Dr. John Money. Money theorized that sexuality was primarily caused by social learning from early childhood, and that it would be in David’s best interest to simply be raised as a woman, since penile surgery at the time was very limited.

This study breaks many ethical codes of conduct. Firstly, the Reimer twins’ parents were deceived by Money. They were never told of his intentions to use their son as part of an experiment, and were led to believe that a sex change was the only option for baby Bruce. Secondly, Bruce never gave his consent to have the sex change, or to be involved in Money’s experiment. Although he was only a baby, his whole life was affected by the decisions of other people.

Perhaps the biggest issue was that Moneys experiment did not only ruin the lives of the whole family, but ultimately lead to the death of the twins. Although the twins offered a perfect sample for Money, as a psychologist he should have respected the rules of ethics and sort other ways to conduct research. However unethical this study was, it could be concluded from the findings that gender roles are biologically instinctive, with Nature overriding Nurture.

Sexual reassignment in the Reimer case is not a gender identity disorder. He was born male unlike than intersex (hermaphrodite) individuals. Intersex is a term that usually defines discordance of the biological aspects of sexual gender.  Traits related to the genitalia, such as internal organs, gonadal tissue, or chromosomes that are more typical of the other sex, or incompletely differentiated define the intersex individual.  Sub-types of hermaphroditism include:

  1. Pseudohermaphroditism Typically a female has a clitoris that is greatly enlarged to the point that they are categorized as intersexed. These people are identified immediately at birth as intersex because those with the condition have a sexual organ larger than a clitoris and smaller than a penis.
  2. Simultaneous hermaphrodite (intersex) A simultaneous hermaphrodite (homogamy) is a person that has both male and female sexual organs.  This definition tends to be misleading since there have been very few human beings with fully developed male and female internal and external genitalia and female breasts. Normally one genitalia is more prominent than the other.

Some people who are intersex individuals, such as those with Klinefelter’s syndrome and androgen insensitivity syndrome, appear completely female or male without realizing they are intersexed. An intersex person may express diversion from typical XX-female or XY-male chromosomes, for example a sex reversal of XY-female and XX-male.

Sometimes an intersex person who is born with partially formed dual genitalia prefers one gender over the other. Sometimes they don’t. Their commonality with David Reimer is that the assignment of their gender should be their own choice rather than that of the medical community.

Dr Money was born in New Zealand, moving to the USA to earn a PhD at Harvard in 1952, after writing a dissertation on hermaphrodites (Hermaphroditism: An Inquiry into the Nature of a Human Paradox). Money was married briefly in the 1950s, but quickly divorced and would never marry again.

He is almost fully responsible for modern day usage of the word “gender” to refer to sexuality. He focused on abnormally developed sex organs and had a special interest in hermaphrodites. He theorized that gender was a learned trait, of which having a penis or vagina was only one of many factors. In addition to the typical factors of chromosomes, type of genitalia, presence of sex hormones, etc., Money theorized there was an additional factor that decided one’s sex: “Gender role and orientation as male or female, established while growing up.”

At the time, the word gender was not used to refer to human sexuality, and Money explained gender role as:

All those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman, respectively. It includes, but is not restricted to sexuality in the sense of eroticism. Gender role is appraised in relation to the following: general mannerisms, deportment and demeanor; play preferences and recreational interests; spontaneous topics of talk in unprompted conversation and casual comment; content of dreams, daydreams and fantasies; replies to oblique inquiries and projective tests; evidence of erotic practices, and, finally, the person’s own replies to direct inquiry.

For Dr. Money, gender included not only a man-woman decision, but also one’s behavior and attitude that went beyond biology. No longer was a boy who picked up a doll just being curious, expressing interest in the human body, or merely picking up a toy he didn’t understand the sexual and social ramifications of.

No, according to Money, this boy was expressing his feminine side. The John Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic was the first attempt at considering that sex was something that humans had control over.

David Reimer has often been mentioned by Intactivists, who use him as an example of what could happen to a man if his parents decide to circumcise him at birth, and the effect it can have on him throughout his life. Only a few years after David Reimer’s birth, Canada began taking a stance against infant circumcision.

Colapinto’s book described unpleasant childhood therapy sessions, implying that Money had ignored or concealed the developing evidence that Reimer’s reassignment to female was not going well. Money’s defenders have suggested that some of the allegations about the therapy sessions may have been the result of false memory syndrome and that the family was not honest with researchers.

Dr Money believed in sex differences & gender differences. His perception of sex differences was small (but larger than most feminists consider); he noted sexual dimorphism & that women are vulnerable while rearing children, so that explains why men were the hunters & wanderers. However, he coined the term “gender role,” replacing the traditional term “sex role.” He thought most behavior exhibited by men and women was socially constructed. “Gender roles” are the publicly displayed traits while “gender identity” was how one conceived of their sexual identity in their head.

He was one of the leading scientific forces that helped second-wave feminism smash gender roles & traditional society. Armed with the information that gender and sexuality were socially built, they radically altered society. As for Money himself, he transformed the medical and scientific community and turned the professions towards social constructionism. We see the vestiges of this in the supreme reticence of academia to admit biological sex differences. Since feminism and social construction are fused at the hip, they know the disavowal of social constructionism would seriously call into question many feminist theories & approaches.

When released to the public Reimer’s story had an unexpected reaction. Intersex people born and reassigned after the publication of Money’s false protocols came forward with their stories. Among them was a San Francisco activist named Cheryl Chase/Brian Sullivan. When she was born Chase displayed ambiguous genitalia with a phallic structure of a size that, if she was female, could be an enlarged clitoris or if she was male, a micropenis. Her doctors assigned Chase as a boy and her parents named her Charlie. But 18 months later, her parents consulted another team of experts. Based partly on the fact that Chase had a fairly normal vagina, this team of doctors reassigned her as a girl. They amputated her phallus and her parents named her Cheryl. After the operation Cheryl refused to speak for 6 months. In 1995 Chase changed her name again to Bonnie Sullivan. In her mid-30’s Cheryl experienced a mental breakdown due to the reassignment of her gender. She made Hermaphrodites Speak! (1995), a 30 minute documentary film in which intersex people discuss the psychological impact of their conditions. Chase advocates a complex perspective of intersexuality, namely that gender difficulties cannot be eliminated by early genital surgery.

Years after Reimer’s public appearances, John Colapinto conducted a telephone interview with John Money, who refused to meet in person. His response to Calopinto`s observation that scientists and psychologists have disproven his book Man & Woman, Boy & Girl wherein he discussed the John-Joan experiment was,  “It’s part of the antifeminist movement. They say masculinity and femininity are built into the genes, so women should get back to the mattress and the kitchen.” Money stood by his original summary of the Reimer case and dismissed Colapinto’s suggestion that he “misperceived” Reimer’s psychological condition. Colapinto reiterated that significant scientific evidence leaned towards the hypothesis that gender assignment was not as simple as reassigning gender, and asked Money if he was considering making some alternations to Man & Woman, Boy & Girl to which Money replied flatly, “I’ll be dead by then.” Suitably, an ambiguous answer from a man who spent most of his career misleading parents and children about ambiguous genitalia. Money also published a book still available for commercial purchase entitled Gay, Straight, and In-Between: The Sexology of Erotic Orientation

As with many family traumas Reimer’s sex reassignment deeply effected his whole family. “My parents feel very guilty, as if the whole thing was their fault,” David Reimer told Colapinto. “But it wasn’t like that. They did what they did out of kindness, and love and desperation. When you’re desperate, you don’t necessarily do all the right things.” 

David could not possibly have foreseen the effect his public appearances would have on his brother Brian.

Today David Reimer would be 52 years old. He could be at the peak of his career, perhaps with a couple of teenage children, whom he could look forward to sending off to begin their own lives, and could look forward to retirement, becoming a grandfather, and enjoying the life he built for himself. Only David Reimer is dead, because of an evil sexual experiment that was performed on him years ago.

Watch video I’m 80% girl, 20% boy In effect their message to family, medical doctors and the community is: No cutting.

Dr Money: The case of Bruce Reimer – Edexcel Psychology

Dr Money and the Boy with No Penis – BBC

David Reimer – Possibly the most unethical study in psychological …

David Reimer – Wikipedia

John Money – Wikipedia

Nature v Nurture: David Reimer Case | Sophie Moet

The boy who was raised a girl – BBC News – BBC.com

Who was David Reimer (also, sadly, known as “John/Joan”)? | Intersex …

Being Brenda | Books | The Guardian

Why did David Reimer commit suicide? – Slate Magazine

Nature or Nurture – National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science

David Reimer, 38; After Botched Surgery, He Was Raised as a Girl in …

Bruce Reimer: Tragic twin boy brought up as girl | Daily Mail Online

The Death of David Reimer – Reason.com

Boy Turned Girl Turned Boy | Alfred K

NOVA | Transcripts | Sex: Unknown | PBS

1D: The John/Joan Case – University of Minnesota | Coursera

‘Social Construct’ Myth and the tragic case of David Reimer

The Forced Transsexuality Of David Reimer – Return Of Kings

Pervert or sexual libertarian?: Meet John Money, “the father of f … – Salon

As Nature Made Him – The New York Times

Full text of “Psychology Information for Students No.5” – Internet Archive


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