John/Joan, RIP

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One of the most famous victims of pseudoscientific hubris is David Reimer, best known as the subject of the book As Nature Made Him. Last week he committed suicide at age 38.

Here's the Associated Press' summary of the story that made him famous:

After a botched circumcision operation when he was a toddler, 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."

His sexual reassignment was then widely reported as a success and proof that children are not by nature feminine or masculine but through nurture are socialized to become girls or boys. David's identical twin brother, Brian, offered researchers a matched control subject.

But when, as a teenager, he discovered the truth about his past, he resumed his male identity, eventually marrying and becoming a stepfather to three children.

The villain in this story is John Money—the "Baltimore doctor" in the AP account—who not only conceived the treatments but persuaded Reimer's parents to have their son completely castrated and raised as a girl. Money's ideas on gender identity put him in the left wing of sexology, and for much of his career his admirers saw him as a bold pioneer fighting religious reactionaries. The Reimer case cast him in a different light: Suddenly he seemed much more repressive than the conservatives; and suddenly his critics were emerging not just from the right but from the community of open intersexuals whose bodies don't fit easily into either of the ordinary gender categories. Turns out they don't like to be mistreated by social engineers any more than they like to be mistreated by the party of rigid sex roles.

I of course don't know what went through Reimer's mind when he decided to end his life. He had just lost his job, his marriage had split up, and his brother had died not long before, depressing events all. But surely the "therapeutic" abuse he had suffered was a factor in his death. It figured heavily, after all, in almost everything else that happened in his life.

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  1. jesus fucking christ… This John Money should be hung by his cajones from the top of a tall building.

    According to a google search, he’s still an MD. Let me get this straight.. It’s ok for doctors to experiment on their patients, but prescribe painkillers, and there’s hell to pay?

  2. That makes me angry. Poor parents too. What a bastard this Money fellow is.

  3. Can someone tell me why “female genital mutilation” is bad, but male infant circumcision is not?

  4. Money is not an M.D.; he is a Ph.D and influential sexologist. He has counseled parents and doctors but does not practice medicine. His views and work are very controversial but he has been of help in guiding the dilemmas of pediatricians who face a hermaphrodite child.

    –Mona–

  5. Yeah Mona, about as helpful as your local skinheads in explaining cultural diversity. Money is a monster . . .

  6. The article stated, “His sexual reassignment was then widely reported as a success and proof that children are not by nature feminine or masculine but through nurture are socialized to become girls or boys.”

    If this was the case, why were they pumping him full of female hormones? Nature should have provided them.

  7. How much blame should we heap on Oprah for this?

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2-2004221788,00.html

  8. probably very little.

    gender roles are very important to you, VM…now tell me about your mother…

  9. I think I read a report that said he had recently lost a large sum of money in an investment fraud, and that contributed to his suicide.

  10. Why blame Money? He gave the best advice he could considering THE BABY’S PENIS WAS BURNT OFF! The blame should go to the doctor who circumsized the unfortunate. Why did he do this? This totally unnecessary and unnatural procedure was the proximate cause of poor David Reimer’s tragic existence.

  11. antaeus, there are *plenty* of reasons be angered by john money’s use of david reimer and his brother. john colapinto’s book As Nature Made Him tells the complete story, but the author provides a full introduction in this article he wrote for Rolling Stone:
    http://www.life.uiuc.edu/neuroscience/343/Colapinto.htm

  12. And to think that I was angry just because I was circumcised *properly*.

    Owww… owww… owww… oww… it will be a half hour before I un-cross my legs.

  13. We’re studying this in a class I’m taking. I find it all very disturbing. Money is still at Hopkins and still believes he was in the right. He will not change his published papers/findings. Sick man.

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