Remembering Reimer: How one man’s tragic suicide proved that boys shouldn’t be raised as girls
WINNIPEG, Manitoba, May 7, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Ten years ago David Reimer, 38, parked his truck at a local shopping center, put a sawed-off shotgun to his head, and pulled the trigger. His tragic death emphasized the total failure of one of the most famous gender alteration cases in modern medicine.
David Reimer was originally named Bruce after he was born a boy along with his identical twin brother Brian in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1965.
A botched circumcision at about eight months burned off the boy’s penis, leaving his young parents bewildered about how they should raise their son. Parents thought they had found an answer when they learned through a television program about Dr. John Money of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, a psychologist renowned for his theories about gender.
Money believed identifying as male or female was a learned trait, but wanted to prove his theory with an ideal test subject. Identical twin boys with one of them raised as a girl was exactly what he was looking for.
Reimer’s parents contacted Money who successfully advised them to raise Bruce as a girl and change his name to “Brenda.” The parents clothed “Brenda” in dresses, gave him dolls to play with, and treated him as a girl. He was given female hormone injections, which later made him develop breasts.
For a little more than a decade “Brenda” visited Money in his clinic, where he tracked the child’s progress of identifying as a girl. Money believed he had finally found the evidence in “Brenda” that gender identity is something nurtured, not something given by nature.
Money published his findings to worldwide acclaim, calling the transformation of the boy to a girl a success. He was featured in Time magazine and a chapter on the twins was included in his 1973 book Man & Woman, Boy & Girl.
But as “Brenda” grew older, reality conflicted with theory. “Brenda” began to rebel against the treatment and psychological assessment sessions. Money began pressuring “Brenda” — without parental knowledge — to undergo plastic surgery that would give him a vagina so that he would look more like a girl.
Money allegedly showed pictures of naked adults to “Brenda” to reinforce the idea that he was a girl. At one point, Money allegedly forced “Brenda” and his twin brother to take off their clothes in his office so “Brenda” would be able to see that he must identify as a girl since he had no penis. Money also allegedly took photographs of the naked children for research purposes.
During one psychological assessment, Money brought in a man who had received sex reassignment surgery in an attempt to convince the boy to receive a vagina through surgery as his ticket to being normal and happy. But the attempt failed, with “Brenda” storming out of the office, never to visit Money again. Fearing they were about to lose their child, Reimer’s parents finally told “Brenda” that he was really a boy and let him live as one.
At age 14, “Brenda” changed his name to David. He eventually married and became a stepfather to three children.
Reimer’s story became widely known after the publication of a book about his life in 2000 titled As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. He also went on the Oprah Winfrey show, warning parents about the hellish consequences he had suffered by being raised to be something he was not. A BBC Horizon documentary of Reimer’s life titled Dr. Money And The Boy With No Penis was made in 2004.
On May 4, 2004, after years of severe depression and only two days after his wife told him she wanted to separate, Reimer committed suicide.
John Colapinto, Reimer’s autobiographer, said he was not surprised at his tragic passing.
“Anyone familiar with David's life — as a baby, after a botched circumcision, he underwent an operation to change him from boy to girl — 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. I'd argue that a less courageous person than David would have put an end to things long ago,” he wrote in a piece that appeared on Slate.
“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.”
David Reimer’s traumatic life and horrific death testify that no matter what elaborate theories the unscrupulous attempt to justify in the name of science, nature will always have the upper hand, often at the expense of human life.