John Money Dies


The sex researcher John Money has died of complications from Parkinson's disease. Famous for his ideas on gender identity, Money was responsible for one of the more infamous human experiments of the last half-century, in which David Reimer, a boy who lost part of his penis in a botched circumcision, was raised against his will as a girl; he eventually reverted to a male identity and, two years ago, committed suicide.

As I wrote in Reason after Reimer's death:

For much of his career, Money's admirers saw him as a bold pioneer fighting puritanical reactionaries. This was his self-image as well. He touted himself as a defender of sexual liberation: for the rights of gays and other sexual minorities, for legalized pornography, for breaking down social taboos. But this seemingly libertarian attitude obscured an authoritarian core. When the truth about the Reimer case was exposed, the sexologist suddenly seemed much more repressive than the conservatives he hated.

Not that he acknowledged this. He told [John] Colapinto that the press's embrace of [Milton] Diamond's expose was a product of right-wing media bias and "the antifeminist movement," insisting that "they say masculinity and femininity are built into the genes so women should get back to the mattress and the kitchen." By this time, though, his critics were emerging not just from the right but from the community of open intersexuals—people born with mixed or indeterminate gender. It turned out they don't like to be coerced by social engineers any more than they like to be coerced by the party of rigid sex roles….

It's interesting to compare and contrast the battles [the intersexuals are] fighting with the battles being fought by transsexuals. One group is often cited by those who favor the nature side of the nature/nurture debate, while the other is embraced by the nurturists; one group wants to stop involuntary surgeries, and the other wants fewer barriers to voluntary surgeries. But both are essentially asking that they be allowed to decide how to live their lives; both want final say on what is done to their own bodies. That basic respect for the individual is what's missing from people like Money, who preach liberation but practice something much less attractive.