Over several interviews that summer of 1994, the 29 year old David Reimer told Dr. Diamond and Dr. Sigmundson everything.
He hadn't wanted to at first. The past hurt. He wanted to forget it, not talk about it or help spawn a research paper about it. Besides, how embarrassing would it be if someone read the research paper Milton Diamond would write up and figured out his true identity?
But Reimer's reluctance to speak vanished after Dr. Diamond detailed what John Money had been saying about his surgery and treatment for the past twenty plus years. Reimer listened in shock. Until that moment, he had no clue Money had made him famous (albeit as an anonymous test subject), or that his tormentor had labeled the twins case an "outstanding success", or that millions believed, as per Money's claim, that Reimer was now happily living the life of a woman, unaware he'd been born male.
Most upsetting of all for Reimer was discovering that Money's false claims had come to form the basis of the standard worldwide protocol for treating small boys with damaged, underdeveloped, or intersexed genitals. By 1994, hundreds of doctors around the world were following the prescriptions Money made based on his "successful" Reimer case. They had surgically "reassigned" around 15,000 young boys to being "girls" only because the boys were born with unusually small penises, or had suffered injury, or some other such dubious basis. And in addition, in each case the doctors instructed the parents, as per Money's recommended treatment protocol, to raise their boy as a girl, never reveal his actual sex, and then put him on estrogen before puberty. Very little follow-up had ever been conducted on these cases, but Diamond suspected—based on his own years of research into prenatally determined sexual dispositions—that all the boys so treated had experienced something like David Reimer had.
"There are people going through what you're going through every day", Diamond said to Reimer. "We're trying to stop that".
"I figured I was the only one", Reimer later said. "And here Diamond tells me they're doing all these surgeries based on me. That's why I decided to cooperate".
And so, Reimer wound up telling Diamond and Sigmundson everything. He told them he'd never felt like a girl. He told them that immediately after his father told him the truth at age fourteen, he announced he wanted to surgically restore himself to manhood. He told them about his several subsequent phalloplastic surgeries, his testosterone therapy, Money's abuse during his childhood "therapy" sessions, his struggles with resentment and revenge fantasies, and his sometimes suicidal loneliness and depression. He also described his difficulty in finding romantic love, given that his sex organs were mostly cosmetic, at best semi-functional reconstructions. He even encouraged his parents and twin brother to also speak with the doctors. He didn't want any other boy to go through what he'd gone through.
Reimer even confided to the doctors an experience of life-changing spiritual importance for him. Although he knew some Bible stories (hence his choice of the new name David), he hadn't grown up in a religious home. Prayer had never played a role in his life.
But as he entered his twenties, a desire grew within him to become a husband and father. He felt filling those roles was part of who he really was, deep down.
There were two obstacles, of course. One was that, due to his castration at the hands of John Money's surgeon two decades earlier, he would never be able to father a child. The other was finding a woman to marry in the first place, given that he'd never be able to fully satisfy her sexually.
That Reimer could fathom, there was simply no way around these obstacles. Yet eventually, the instinct within him grew so strong that he began wondering seriously about the existence of God for the first time. After all, if there really was a God, maybe he could perform a miracle. Maybe God could find a way, against all the odds, to make David a husband and father, and give him his very own family to watch over, lead, and serve.
And so, David revealed, he had prayed for the first time. Speaking directly to a God he wasn't even sure was there, he asked for a woman to love and cherish, who would love and cherish him in return. He asked to experience the miracle of fatherhood. His exact words, as he remembered them later, were, "I could be a good husband if I was given the chance...I could be a good father if I was given a chance". It was as much a promise as a plea.
And so, you can imagine David's amazement and gratitude when, only two months later, he met a 25 year old single mother named Jane, who had three children and seemed interested in him. They began dating. David fell in love with what he called "her true heart". Jane fell in love with his courage and dedication. They married two years later, and David adopted Jane's children. God, David reported, had performed a miracle for him he had never thought possible. Keeping his promise to God to be a good husband and father in return was now the most important thing in his life.
A moved Milton Diamond and Keith Sigmundson now had the true story. With Reimer's encouragement, they began to write up a journal article about the case. By winter of that year (1994), it was ready.
Entitled "Sex Reassignment at Birth: Long-Term Review and Clinical Implications", the article described itself as "a long-term follow-up to a classic case reported in pediatric, psychiatric, and sexological literature". Anchored by extensive quotes from Reimer himself, as well as supplementary quotes from Reimer's wife and parents, the article exposed Money's famous 1972 experiment for the total failure it was. As Diamond and Sigmundson summarized it, "this update to a case originally accepted as a 'classic' in fields ranging from medicine to the humanities completely reverses the conclusions and theory behind the original reports". It also showed Money's experiment to be inhumane, traumatizing, and proof that Money's own theory of psychosexual neutrality at birth was false.
Diamond and Sigmundson also skewered the entire psychological, sociological, women's studies, and medical communities for accepting Money's dubious claim at face value for the previous two decades. That mindless acceptance was especially disturbing given that Diamond's exhaustive 1965 article, and several articles by other researchers in the years since, had provided abundant reason to doubt Money's later claims of a successful twins experiment. Simply put, said the authors, three decades' worth of irrefutable proof against Money's biology denialism "does not seem to have been accepted or integrated by most pediatricians or surgeons". And that was true even though "the last decade has offered much support for a biological substrate for sexual behavior", such that "the evidence seems overwhelming that normal humans are not psychosexually neutral at birth".
In so many words, what Diamond and Sigmundson deftly, gently pointed out was that on a basic, but vitally important issue, and one with profound implications for thousands of infants, almost every scientist and academic out there had shown utter indifference to overwhelming scientific evidence for decades. Instead, they'd simply followed John Money as a cult guru, performing penis amputations and castrations all the way. Despite still claiming the supreme authority of science, they amounted to Jonestowners in lab coats. Fifteen thousand irresponsibly genitally-mutilated males could attest to that. John Money was a sick, dangerous fraud—but so were the hundreds, thousands, of professionals who followed him without verifying his claims, in defiance of all the evidence.
Of course, Diamond and Sigmundson used much softer language than I'm using here, and only included a couple of sentences saying as much. However, their language wasn't so soft and sparse as to obscure the point. As a result, you might be able to guess what happened when the two co-authors sent their paper in to be published by The New England Journal of Medicine: nothing. The journal rejected the paper.
And you might also be able to guess what happened when the surprised truth-tellers then sent their piece into The Journal of the American Medical Association: again, nothing. Another rejection.
Diamond and Sigmundson next sent it to a third journal, then a fourth, then a fifth and sixth and seventh and eighth. No one would publish it.
The problem wasn't that anything in the article was wrong. The problem was that it wasn't wrong. It was right. That was the problem. It stung, it embarrassed, it exposed. Finally, after two years of rejections, Diamond and Sigmundson found a publisher: Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. It wasn't The Lancet or Nature, but it was pretty good. And surely, the article—which you can download and read right here—would trigger the kind of scientific establishment soul-searching Milton Diamond's first takedown of Money, thirty years earlier, should have triggered, but didn't. The article even recommended "new guidelines" for treating boys with genital problems: "We believe that any 46-chromosome, XY individual born normal and with a normal nervous system, in keeping with the psychosexual bias thus prenatally imposed, should be raised as a male."
Back in Winnipeg, David Reimer hoped the academic exposé would stop the increasingly popular, Money-inspired surgical reassignments of infant boys. To push the matter further, he even agreed to be interviewed for a special television documentary, an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show", and a feature article in Rolling Stone magazine. After thirty years in the shadows, David Reimer was about to step out into the public to speak. It was the least he could do to convince the health care establishment to stop doing what it had once done to him. Once they all heard his true story, he figured, they would all change their ways, and very quickly, too. Of course they would. Wouldn't they?
Tal will be back here next week to answer that question. 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.