Famed sex psychologist John Money convinced David Reimer's parents to raise him as a girl after his penis was irreparably damaged in a botched circumcision when he was an infant.
The case of David Reimer is a complicated one. Throughout his short life, he was known by three different names: Bruce, Brenda, and, finally, David.
His first name, Bruce, was the one given to him at birth. The second, Brenda, was the name given to him after a botched circumcision as an infant led his parents to John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland to meet with famed sexologist Dr. John Money.
Worried that the irreparable damage to young Bruce’s genitals would cause issues for him as an adult, Money offered the Reimers another option: have doctors perform sex reassignment surgery on Bruce, and raise him as a girl. Money believed that a person’s gender identity was a learned thing — and moreover, that they could be “taught” to identify differently than their biological sex. When the Reimers explained their predicament, it seemed as if the perfect opportunity to test this theory had fallen right into Money’s lap.
So, the Reimers followed Money’s suggestion. Bruce underwent sex reassignment surgery at a young age, and the Reimers began calling their child Brenda, providing Brenda with estrogen supplements, and encouraging more traditionally feminine behaviors. However, the truth became increasingly more difficult to hide as Brenda grew up. Even as Money declared the operation as a success, Brenda continued to struggle with their female identity and secretly felt more masculine.
“I never quite fit in,” David Reimer said in a 2000 interview on Oprah. “Building forts and getting into the odd fistfight, climbing trees — that’s the kind of stuff that I liked, but it was unacceptable as a girl.”
Eventually, when Brenda was 14, their parents told them the truth. It was then that Brenda made the life-changing decision to return to life as a male, and chose his third and final name, David.
“Suddenly it all made sense why I felt the way I did,” Reimer said of the revelation. “I wasn’t some sort of weirdo. I wasn’t crazy.”
Sadly, however, even with his new name and new gender identity, David wouldn’t last long.
Money had declared his experiment to be a success, but the reality was the exact opposite. David Reimer had never felt comfortable as Brenda, and even after he learned the truth and embraced who he truly was, the damage was done, and the story unfortunately ended in tragedy.
Learn more about the tragic true story of David Reimer.