The Story of David Reimer

This week’s discussion about how medicine has totally interfered with gender identity. It made me think of a documentary I watched during my freshman year about the story of David Reimer.

David Reimer was born an identical twin boy in 1965. At the age of 8 months, David and his brother, Brian, each were scheduled for a circumcision, but because of the procedure used, David’s penis was burnt off. At the advice of psychologist John Money at Johns Hopkins University, David’s parents agreed to have him “sex reassigned” and “made” David into a girl via surgical, hormonal, and psychological treatments.

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. This is an approach that is still used throughout much of the U.S. and developed world, and is 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. He knew Brenda was never happy as a girl, and he knew that as soon as David found out what happened to him, David reassumed the social identity of a boy.

The story of David Reimer taught me how much people are harmed by being lied to and treated in inhumane ways. I don’t think we can ever predict, with absolute certainty, what gender identity a person will grow up to have. What I can predict with a good degree of certainty is that children who are treated with shame, secrecy, and lies will suffer at the hands of medical providers who may think they have the best of intentions and the best of theories.

Here is a link to a website in which the full documentary can be found:

maria florencia serra


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