The birth of Bruce Reimer
Bruce (who was later named David) Reimer and his twin brother Brian were born in Canada on August 22, 1965 in Winnipeg, Manitoba to a pair of young farmers. Life began normal enough for Bruce and Brian but after several months, the parents became concerned with the way the boys were urinating. Alarmed at the problem, and most likely unnecessarily worried, they took the boys to their family doctor. The family doctor suggested a standard procedure to fix their problem: circumcision. Alas, the method used in the circumcision was not as conventional though. Rather than using a surgical knife to cut away the foreskin, the doctors used a new method whereby the skin was burned off with a electrocautery needle. The surgery did not go as planned and sadly, David’s penis was burned and damaged beyond repair.
Boy or girl?
David’s parents were naturally concerned about his prospects for happiness and sexual function as an adult without a penis. They took him to John Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore after seeing a doctor on TV discuss sexual identity and some radical ideas that were gaining popularity during the 1960s. At John Hopkins they met Dr. John Money, a psychologist who was developing a reputation as a pioneer in the field of sexual development and gender identity. Dr. Money pioneered the belief that sexual identity was rather plastic and all psychological and behavior differences between boys and girls were learned behaviors that the children picked up during infancy. Children’s sexual identities were formed b nurture, not nature. The belief was rampant during the 1960s.
Dr. Money felt that David was a perfect case, especially since he had a twin brother that could serve as a “control” for comparison, and suggested that they reconstruct his penis as a vagina and raise him as a girl – a sexual reassignment. At 22 months old, David’s testicles were removed, he was started on hormonal supplements, and he was renamed Brenda. The doctor suggested that David be raised as a girl and that he never be told what had happened.
The medical study continues
Dr. Money followed up with David (and Brian, the control case) for several years. Dr. Money continued to report the case to the medical community as the “John/Joan case” and raved about its success. Money wrote: “The child’s behavior is so clearly that of an active little girl and so different from the boyish ways of her twin brother.” When Dr. Money gave “Brenda” estrogen to induce breast development and began to prepare the family for vagina construction, the whole thing began to spin out of control.
Things are not as they seem
The reality of the situation was quite different from Dr. Money’s medical account. “Brenda” did not identify as a girl. She was ostracized at school by her peers and neither frilly dresses nor female hormones made her feel like a girl. At the age of 3, she angrily tore off her dresses. Instead of playing with dolls she beat up her brother and took his toy cars instead. By the age of 15, Brenda was suicidal and told her parents she would kill herself if made to see Dr. Money again. She was then told the truth about her gender reassignment. Although stunned, it all made sense to Brenda. She considered the alternatives and decide to reassume her male identity and chose the name “David” to continue life with. A penis was constructed, her breast removed, and reverse hormonal therapy started.
David spent several more years as a boy although psychological damage to him and his family were quite evident. His case came to international attention in 1997 when he told his story to Milton Diamond, an academic sexologist who persuaded David to allow him to report the outcome in order to dissuade physicians from treating other infants similarly. Soon after, David went public with his story and John Colapinto published a widely disseminated and influential account in Rolling Stone magazine in December 1997. They went on to elaborate the story in a book, As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. The book sales provided David with financial security. Still, things continued to unravel.
David’s mother and father suffered extreme guilt over the whole ordeal. David’s father became an alcoholic and his mother began suffering from depression. David’s brother was also greatly affected by the situation himself. After spending over a decade being raised with a sister only to have his entire universe spun on hits head, Brian became severely depressed. In 2002, Brian committed suicide.
Two years later David himself committed suicide.