What determines our gender identity? Is it written into our genetic code at the moment of conception, or can it be instilled during infancy? Does gender neutrality really exist?
This is the tragic story of a boy whose penis was burned beyond surgical repair during a circumcision attempt, and a psychologist specializing in the biology of gender who set out to prove that gender identity is nurtured rather than innate.
When Bruce Reimer was 8 months old, he and his twin brother were diagnosed with phimosis. The were both referred for circumcision. Unfortunately for Bruce, the electric equipment doctors were using for his surgery malfunctioned. The distraught parents took their son to Dr. John Money, a pioneer in the field of sexual development at the time. At Dr. Money’s recommendation, Bruce started sex reassignment, and he became Brenda. It was unsuccessful. Despite the many hormone treatments and surgeries he went through, and the “John/Joan case” papers Dr. Money’s published claiming otherwise, Brenda never identified as female. In later interviews, he would say he never felt female and was even teased in school. By the time he reached 13, Brenda was threatening his parents with suicide if they ever made him see Dr. Money again.
At age 14, Brenda decided to assume a male gender identity and he became David Reimer. In 1997, in a move which would cause Dr. Money’s studies to come under intense criticism from the scientific community, he decided to go public with his story.
In 2002, David’s twin brother, Brian, died from an overdose on drugs used to treat his schizophrenia- apparently Dr. Money’s therapy sessions with both boys had left him psychologically scarred as well. Two years later, David Reimer himself committed suicide.