John Money settled into his academic catbird seat in 1952.
To the extent he was capable of feeling any emotions at all, he must have felt supremely satisfied with himself. Brand new PhD from Harvard. Brand new professorship at Johns Hopkins. Not only a brand new professorship, but the first professorship in history of a fancy new sub-discipline called "pediatric psychoendocrinology" (a glorious designation I surmise Money invented for himself, even though he was simply a psychologist, with no actual training or experience as a medical doctor, pediatrician, psychiatrist, or endocrinologist). And to top it all off, he also now had a leading role in Johns Hopkins's brand new sex research institute.
The frail, contemptuous, religion-hating, revenge-fantasizing boy raised by a widowed mother and spinster aunties—the boy who had concluded he was the intellectual superior of everyone around him, who had vowed to use his intellectual superiority to gain power over a world he despised, whose only childhood social experiences (besides being razzed by local boys and babied by overweening women) involved playing with a female cousin in a shed—now had power, credibility, authority, influence, status, title, backing, academic fame, healthy income, a huge budget, and control of a whole research team.
He could hire. He could fire. He could command, correct, punish, reward, provoke, manipulate, thwart, coerce, make or break. Professors who had been doing research since before he was born now came to him with questions. His explosive rise to the apex of the academic priesthood was a pauper-to-prince, powerless-to-powerful story right out of Hans Christian Andersen.
Once settled at Johns Hopkins, Money moved fast. He was a man on a mission. The mission was: destroy all traditional conceptions of human sexuality, all traditional expressions of human sexuality, and all traditional codes regulating human sexuality. Then, fill the void with conceptions, expressions, and codes of human sexuality devised or approved only by John Money himself. That was what the world needed: destruction, then reconstruction along the lines created and commanded by John Money.
In various interviews and articles throughout his career, Money would often soft pedal his mission. But not even a man as gifted in the manipulation of language as he was could forever hide his designs. Besides, vanity often got the best of him. Boasting about one's great influence requires disclosing the nature of that influence. Consequently, notwithstanding Money's career-long habit of invoking "science" to cloak an aggressively anti-scientific, misanthropic (and I would say, psychopathic, misotheist, and evil) activism, the cloak was always transparent for anyone with critical faculties.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to the very beginning of John Money's career in the early 1950s.
Money faced a daunting challenge. How does one man—even one in as advantageous a position as he now was—destroy a huge, complex system of cultural norms surrounding human sexuality, all of which emerge from deeply-held moral intuitions and religious beliefs, and which is supported both by widespread popular assent and even, in many instances, force of law?
For a less ambitious or confident man, the challenge would have appeared impossible. This was Eisenhower's America, after all. Hollywood movies hewed strictly to the Hays Code. Lucille Ball couldn't even couldn't even say the word "pregnant" on TV. Rob and Laura Petrie slept in different beds. Watching June and Ward Cleaver in action furnished no hints whatsoever about how Wally and Beaver might have ever come into existence. Any high school girl allowing a boy to caress her bosom one evening, let alone agreeing to the full Bel-Air Backseat Boogie (I just made that up), would emerge with an irreparably damaged reputation.
But invincible self-confidence, plus obsessive hate, plus awareness of his skills, propelled Money onward. Referring to the believing Christians he loathed, Money once told an interviewer that "the United States was founded by a band of devil-chasers, and they're still chasing devils". His goal was to defeat them all. That defeating the devil-chasers would only hand victory to the devils, of course, was the whole point.
Obviously, he couldn't accomplish his mission through brute force. As Money himself later admitted (mentioning the police forces and the military in particular), the "devil-chasers"(i.e., believing Christians) controlled almost everything in 1950s America. But he could outsmart them, just the way he had outsmarted the bully boys back in Morrinsville.
His first move was a clever one. A full frontal assault would never work against America's Great Wall of Devil-Chasers. What he needed was just a slim crack in that wall to exploit. He needed some initial purchase. From there, he could wrangle more and more leverage. As Archimedes had pointed out two millennia earlier, get the right angle and the right lever, and you can move anything.
And so, Money began his activist academic career by advancing a seemingly unobjectionable idea. In short, it went like this:
Everyone thinks about sexual identity in terms of genitalia: if you have a penis and testes, you're a man; if you have a vagina and ovaries, you're a woman.
But sexual identity is about a lot more than mere genitalia, Money argued. It includes the culturally-determined opportunities for expressing or manifesting maleness and femaleness. That includes everything from ways of speaking, dressing, and grooming, to ways of feeling, thinking, and engaging with society. It also includes the extent to which individuals choose to participate in those culturally-determined opportunities. In other words, Money suggested that sexual identity entailed a broad cluster of important elements having nothing to do with biology.
Going further, Money claimed that this expanded conception of sexual identity—one that laid far more weight on non-biological factors than previous conceptions—had no name. And so, he would name it. The word he chose came from philology: "gender". He unveiled his neologism in his 1955 article, "Hermaphroditism, Gender, and Precocity in Hyperadrenocorticism: Psychologic Findings".
For the next half century, Money would proclaim to the world, in article after article after victory lap article, that it was he who had first come up with the concept of gender, coined the term, and then introduced both to the scientific community and the world at large.
(As it happens, this wasn't true. A decade before his 1955 article appeared, the Cornell psychologist I. Madison Bentley, as well as Columbia psychiatrist Leland Hinsie, had both used the term gender in written publications in just the sense later advanced by Money. Both publications had been overlooked—except by Money, who owned copies of both. Money simply appropriated the term and concept without attribution. No one, that I know, ever caught on, until Dutch researcher Dieterik F. Jannsen discovered Money's nifty little theft just a few years ago).
But what is true is that Money popularized the term and concept of gender, and in fact, began building an ideology upon it. Money, after all, was a brand new academic rock star. His influence wasn't only a by-product of his position. He took pains to maximize it. And it worked. His colleagues followed what he said. And so, by the late 1950s, gender had become a standard term in the psychological community. It wouldn't be too long after that, that the word would enter common usage. Today, seven decades later, a word which originally referred to all sorts of non-biological factors has now replaced the biology-connoting term sex to refer to any conception of sexual identity, including strictly biological conceptions. Money, if he were alive today, would consider that a huge success.
I say that because Money, after the acceptance of gender began to grow, followed up by pushing his non-biology claims even further. He now announced that it wasn't just that nurture mattered in the formation of sexual identity. It was actually that nature didn't matter at all, at least for the first few years of life. In an article published the same year as he announced his invention of gender, Money and his co-authors put it like this: "...in place of a theory of instinctive masculinity or femininity which is innate, the evidence of hermaphroditism lends support to a conception that psychologically, sexuality is undifferentiated at birth and that it becomes differentiated as masculine or feminine in the course of the various experiences of growing up".
In a 1961 book contribution entitled "Sex Hormones and Other Variables in Human Eroticism", he flatly declared that "erotic outlook and orientation is an autonomous psychologic phenomenon independent of genes and hormones...".
In a 1963 piece, he wrote, "all the human race follow the same pattern, namely, of psychosexual undifferentiation at birth".
"Gender" was the thin point of the wedge. The next segment of the wedge was Money's follow-up claim that human beings are born sexually neutral in terms of their minds, instincts, and predispositions. What channels them into a masculine or feminine "gender role" is only experience/environment/nurture, and eventually choice. There is nothing biological about it at all. Anyone can become anything.
So, give an infant with a penis and testes dolls to play with, treat him like a girl, and he'll grow up to think, feel, and act, in a stereotypically feminine way. Give an infant with a vagina enough cap guns, slingshots, and footballs, and she'll wind up stereotypically masculine. According to Money, that was all there was to "gender identity".
Money pushed this idea constantly for a decade. Not only did no one challenge him—his fellow academics applauded his "important discovery". In universities all over the United States, and indeed, around the world, psychology professors began repeating Money's claims about the total psychosexual malleability of human beings. It was simply the One True Truth. John Money said so—and John Money was science, capital S. If he said it, it meant "the science was settled", the end.
But then, something funny happened. An obscure teacher, much younger than the great man John Money, working at a state university down in Kentucky, decided he'd had enough. Yes, Money had the power, the credentials, the status, the fame, and the top university. He even had legions of academic groupies. He had everything an academic could ever dream of. It was 1965, and John Money was the Grand Emperor of "Pediatric Psychoendocrinology" and All Human Sex Research on Earth. The problem was, Emperor John Money was buck naked. He was totally, completely, one thousand percent full of ****. At least, that's what the young teacher concluded. And if no one else was going to do something about it, he would.
What happened next was one of the great acts of academic effrontery and epistemic obliteration of all time—and one John Money would never forgive nor forget. It would also directly motivate the now-exposed emperor to perpetrate one of the most appalling horrors in modern history, all in the effort to save face. It was one he spent years lying about, and which we still wouldn't know about, except for...well...wait. I'm getting ahead of myself again. We'll pick this up next week.
Tal will be back here next week to continue the conversation. Mark Steyn Club members can weigh in on this column in the comment section below, one of many perks of club membership, which you can check out here.