The humble young couple had driven halfway across North America—over 1500 miles, from Winnipeg to Baltimore—to meet the great man in person. Based on what they had recently seen on a television program, he was the one man on earth who might be able to help their seventeen month old son, Bruce.
Bruce's trouble had started a year earlier. Along with his identical twin brother, Brian, he had developed difficulty urinating due to foreskin closure (phimosis). The twins's mother—barely out of her teens—took them to the doctor. His recommendation? Circumcision. A quick snip, the boys would heal up in a few days, and then, no more trouble.
But what should have been a routine procedure turned into something much different. For reasons never made clear, the Winnipeg doctor on duty that February day in 1966 decided to use a new electric cauterizing device rather than the standard scalpel. Whether from user error, device malfunction, or both, the doctor's circumcision attempt damaged—actually, destroyed—the six month old boy's penis.
The boy's distraught parents, Ron and Janet Reimer, sought help from local plastic surgeons. Yes, the surgeons said, some crude facsimile of a penis could be fashioned. But it would require multiple surgeries, and the facsimile would never look like a real penis. It would also never work like a real penis.
Desperate, the parents then took their son down to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. But the experts there only repeated what the doctors in Winnipeg had said. The tragic accident, it seemed, had condemned their young son to a lifetime of disfigurement, embarrassment, sexual non-function, and probably bachelorhood. As far as the Reimers could discover, there was just nothing they could do for their poor little boy.
And then one evening, a few months later, everything changed. The heartsick couple happened to catch a TV show featuring a Johns Hopkins expert discussing the brand new science of "sex change". The expert's name? John Money.
Money was good on camera: smooth, supremely confident, clipped accent, and clever. He declared, as though it were a matter of unchallengeable fact, that modern science allowed him and his team to fully transform males into females, and vice versa. He even produced, right then and there, a dazzling blonde transexual named Diane who had once been a man named Richard. Diane purred that she was happier than ever before.
The Reimers watched with cautious hope. Maybe this amazing scientist could help their disfigured son. If he and his team could do surgeries to transform a male into a female, and vice versa, maybe he could help reconstruct their son's genitals. Failing that, if science could turn boys into girls as easily as John Money asserted...and their little boy could grow up to be a woman just as happy as the purring Diane was, and avoid a life of shame and loneliness as a defective male...why not consider that option, too? The professor had just said it was possible, after all—and he sure sounded like he knew what he was talking about. Janet sent a letter off to Professor John Money, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, the very next day.
Of course, the Reimers didn't know anything about Money other than what they'd just seen on TV. They didn't know that a young teacher named Milton Diamond had obliterated Money's claims about psychosexual malleability only the year before. They didn't know Money had deliberately hidden that fact during his television presentation. They didn't know Money's unflappable public persona masked a hateful, angry megalomaniac who regularly terrorized his underlings by screaming at them, sexually harassing them, throwing tantrums, and issuing credible career threats. They didn't know Money was a sexual psychopath bent on destroying all traditional sexual standards, and replacing them with some of the darkest sexual behaviors imaginable, including pedophilia.
They also didn't know Money felt hostile toward males and masculinity in general. They didn't know Money had never forgiven the boys who teased him back in school. They didn't know Money still hated his deceased father for once spanking him unjustly. They didn't know Money had grown up absorbing the regular anti-male rants of his widowed mother and her embittered spinster sisters. They didn't know Money believed male genitalia were the mark of a "vile sexuality" (Money's words). They didn't know Money often wondered "if the world might really be a better place for women if not only farm animals, but human males were also gelded at birth" (also Money's words). All they knew was, the ultra-confident man on TV—the embodiment of cutting-edge science—seemed like he might be able to help.
For John Money, the tragic situation Janet Reimer described in her letter was a dream come true. Here, out of the blue, an opportunity had fallen into his lap to verify his theory of infinite sexual malleability, shut the impudent Milton Diamond up forever, and reassert his standing as the world's greatest scientific expert on human sexuality. Play this right, and no one would ever dare challenge him again. And maybe, just maybe, his ultimate agenda really would prevail.
Money's plan was simple. Meet with the parents and win them over. Leave the undamaged identical twin alone to be the control subject. Then turn the damaged boy into the test subject by doing everything possible to turn him into a girl.
That meant castrate him; fashion what would look like a vulva for now; instruct the parents to raise him as a girl, never telling him the circumstances of his birth; perform a complete sex change operation before puberty; flood the boy with estrogen during puberty; and then, when the boy accepts being a girl, declare victory over Milton Diamond.
And even more, declare victory for his own theory of full psychosexual malleability—that is, for himself. Declare to the world that science had now proved every traditional notion about the sexes is a fiction. Declare it now established that every sex difference in behavior, inclination, thought, feeling, is all the result of social environment. Declare that humans are blank slates. Declare that nature imposes no constraints on what is possible regarding sexual identity and behavior, and offers no guidance on what is optimal. Declare global liberation from all sexual constraints suggested by religion, tradition, and law thanks to science (and himself). Declare invalid any concern about a new era of sexual anarchy on grounds the concern is unscientific. Demonize reluctance as a vestige of traditionalist brainwashing or a revelation of sexist bigotry. Declare that science has now established that the only real sexual commandment is: anything goes. (And if you think this is an exaggerated characterization of Money's agenda, stay tuned for future installments).
Of course, the Reimers didn't hear anything about this agenda, or the backstory with Milton Diamond, during their first meeting with John Money in early 1967 (nor would they for another three decades). Rather, what they heard was the world's top scientific expert affirm, with absolute certainty, that the best option for their son was to turn him into a girl. Bruce would never even know he'd once been a male. He would just be a happy girl who would grow up to live a happy life as a woman. Although he would never be able to bear children, he would experience pleasure—and even sexual climax—from the vagina surgeons would construct for him before puberty. That's how wonderful science was.
At the time, neither Ron nor Janet Reimer had more than a sixth grade education. Before them, in that Baltimore office, sat one of the world's most (formally) educated men. Behind him, illustrious degrees and awards hung on the wall. Hundreds, thousands, of other medical scientists viewed Money as a top authority—actually, the top authority—in the field of human sexuality. He spoke with absolute certainty, and he offered them hope.
You add that all up, and the Reimers were never going to suspect they were in the presence of a fraud, who, in that very moment, was misleading and using them. As they later confirmed, it just never occurred to them John Money might be wrong, let alone disingenuous. "I looked up to him like a god", said Janet, years later. "I accepted whatever he said".
And so, after some thought, Ron and Janet allowed Money and his team to castrate ("geld", to reprise the word Money used in the quote above) their son and create what looked like a vulva. Bruce would now be Brenda. Following Money's instructions, they would buy Brenda dolls, bake sets, and dresses. They would encourage Brenda to help his mother cook dinner, wash dishes, and iron laundry, while encouraging Brenda's identical twin brother, Brian, to help his father fix the car, paint the garage, and do carpentry projects.
Back home in Winnipeg, Ron and Janet Reimer followed every single one of Money's recommendations—and every single one of them failed. Brenda didn't want to wear dresses. He wanted to shave like his dad. He wanted to play with trucks, BB guns, and hammers. He had no interest in the small sewing machine his parents had bought him.
Janet told herself Brenda was just a tomboy. Underneath, she feared the castration and the whole course of action was a mistake. But when she expressed her doubts to Money, he replied that her doubts themselves would disrupt Brenda's psychological progress. She and her husband, he said, needed to remove all doubts from their minds. They needed to do whatever it took to convince themselves they hadn't made a mistake. The Reimers vowed to keep trying.
But staving off doubt became harder and harder once the twins started school. Brenda showed no interest in hopscotch, skipping rope, or any other girl games. He only wanted to roughhouse with the boys. Uninterested in the girls but rejected by the boys, Brenda wound up friendless, teased, confused, miserable, and struggling to succeed academically, even though tests revealed he had a normal IQ.
Brenda was severely struggling. Each year, the Reimers would take Brenda (and Brian) to visit Dr. Money in Baltimore. And each year, it became clearer things weren't going to plan. By 1972, after five years after intense social conditioning (not to mention the removal of all Bruce's male sex organs), Brenda was still running around acting just like a boy. The experiment wasn't working, and Money knew it.
And yet, despite this, it was in that very year that Money decided to unveil his experiment to the public (without disclosing the twins's identity)...and proclaim it a huge, unqualified success. He did so for the first time at a Washington, DC meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of (um) Science (no irony there or anything). Time Magazine covered Money's triumphant announcement in their next issue, running an adulatory full-page story on the great man's thrilling scientific discovery.
That same week, Money's new book came out. Entitled Man Woman Boy Girl, it also reported the "successful" experiment on Brenda. The book also included Money's first public response to Milton Diamond. Diamond was wrong, Money wrote. His "successful" twins experiment proved it. In fact, Diamond was more than wrong; he had been "instrumental in wrecking the lives of unknown numbers of hermaphroditic youngsters". In short, Money was Good, Diamond was Evil. Everyone should follow John Money. Everyone should reject Milton Diamond.
The buzz over Money's book and his breakthrough discovery was everywhere. Even the New York Times Book Review weighed in, proclaiming Money's new book "the most important volume in the social sciences to appear since the Kinsey reports". For their part, feminists hailed Money's successful experiment as vindication of everything they'd been saying for years.
The verdict was in, the science was settled: sexual identity and sex roles essentially had no basis in biology. Social environment was what mattered. John Money, the embodiment of science, had proved it.
At least, John Money said he had proved biology didn't matter. Depressingly, merely him saying he had proved it was all it took for society's most influential people to believe he had. Seven years prior, Milton Diamond had indirectly chastised the scientific community for uncritically accepting John Money's preposterous claims of psychosexual neutrality at birth. Diamond had shown Money's claims to be not just false, but absurd, and the precise opposite of what the scientific data showed. Yet now, seven years later, that same scientific community was still uncritically accepting Money's claims. For hundreds, even thousands, of scientists and doctors and therapists around the world, the evidence didn't matter. Only following the leader mattered. And their leader was John Money.
As 1973 unfolded, Money's future looked bright. His report of his "successful" experiment had neutralized Milton Diamond as a rival, and relegated him to effectual irrelevance. Money could see no other challengers on the horizon. As a result, his ideas—many of which he had not yet revealed—could soon impact society more than he'd ever dreamed. A strain of proto-Wokist ideology was, even in that moment, assembling itself upon Money's claims, and linking itself to sibling strains in other fields.
But first, Money needed to deal with the little matter of the uncooperative Brenda. If the Reimers would not or could not socially condition the boy into behaving like a girl, Money would have to do so himself. The Reimers' annual visit was coming up. It was time for Money to get his "successful" experiment back on track, no matter what it took.
More next week.
(Note: Much of the information I have presented here has come from John Colapinto's definitive account, "As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl").
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.
Comment on this item (members only)
Viewing and submission of reader comments is restricted to Mark Steyn Club members only. If you are not yet a member, please click here to join. If you are already a member, please log in here: