A tribute to David Reimer (1965-2004)

Pubblicato il 10 Maggio 2007 da Veronica Baker

A tribute to David Reimer (1965-2004)

David Reimer was born as a male identical twin.
His birth name was Bruce ; his twin brother was named Brian.

At the age of 6 months, both boys were referred for circumcision at the age of 8 months.

But the surgeon, Jean-Marie Huot, and the anaesthesiologist Max Cham performed the circumcision with the aid of a Bovie cautery machine, which is not intended for use on the extremities or genitals. Bruce’s penis was destroyed. A

fter this, Brian’s circumcision was cancelled.

A tribute to David Reimer (1965-2004)

Bruce’s parents, concerned about his prospects for future happiness and sexual function without a penis, took him to John Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore to see John Money, a psychologist who was developing a reputation as a pioneer in the field of sexual development and gender identity, based on his work with intersex patients.

Money was a prominent proponent of the theory that gender identity was relatively plastic in infancy and developed primarily as a result of social learning from early childhood ; some academics in the late 1960s believed that all psychological and behavioral differences between males and females were learned.

He, and other physicians working with young children born with abnormal genitalia, believed that a penis could not be replaced but that a functional vagina could be constructed surgically, and that Bruce would be more likely to achieve successful, functional sexual maturation as a girl than as a boy.

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They persuaded his parents that sex reassignment would be in Bruce’s best interest, and, at the age of 22 months, surgery was performed to remove his testes. He was reassigned to be raised as a female and given the name ‘Brenda’.

Psychological support for the reassignment and surgery was provided by John Money, who continued to see Brenda for years, both for treatment and to assess the outcome.

This reassignment was considered an especially valid test case of the social learning concept of gender identity for two reasons.

First, Bruce/Brenda had a twin brother, Brian, who made an ideal control since the two not only shared genes and family environments, but they had shared the intrauterine environment as well.

Second, this was reputed to be the first reassignment and reconstruction performed on a male infant who had no abnormality of prenatal or early postnatal sexual differentiations.

For several years, Money reported on Brenda’s progress as the “John/Joan case”, describing apparently successful female gender development, and using this case to support the feasibility of sex reassignment and surgical reconstruction even in non-intersex cases.

Estrogen was given to Brenda when she reached adolescence to induce breast development.

However, Brenda had experienced the visits to Baltimore as traumatic rather than therapeutic and her family discontinued the follow-up visits.

John Money published nothing further about the case to suggest that the reassignment had not been successful.
Reimer’s later account, written two decades later with John Colapinto, described how, contrary to Money’s reports, Brenda did not feel like a girl.

She was ostracized and bullied by peers, and neither frilly dresses nor female hormones made her feel female.


By the age of 13, Brenda was experiencing suicidal depression, and told her parents she would commit suicide if they made her see John Money again. In 1980, Brenda’s parents told her the truth about her gender reassignment.

Now 15, Brenda decided to assume a male gender identity, calling himself David.

After learning of the new relationship with his ex-sister, Brian began to experience a pattern of mental disturbance and later developed schizophrenia. By 1997, David had undergone treatment to reverse the reassignment, including testosterone injections, a double mastectomy, and two phallophasty operations.

He also married a woman and became a stepfather to her 3 children.

His case came to international attention in 1997 when he told his story to Milton Diamond, an academic sexologist who persuaded David to allow him to report the outcome in order to dissuade physicians from treating other infants similarly.

Soon after, David went public with his story and John Colapinto published a widely disseminated and influential account in Rolling Stone magazine in December 1997.

They went on to elaborate the story in a book, “As nature made him “.

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Although the book gave David Reimer more financial security, he had many other problems in his life, including a separation from his wife, severe problems with his parents, and the death of his twin brother Brian, in 2002, from a toxic combination of alcohol and antidepressants.

Reimer committed suicide with a sawed-off shotgun in 2004.


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