Scandal of the Boy Turned into a Girl by Doctors to Prove the Sexes Are No Different; the Human Guinea Pig in a Bizarre Sixties Social Engineering Experiment Tells How His Life Has Been Wrecked by a Doctor's Obsession

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), January 30, 2000 | Go to article overview

Scandal of the Boy Turned into a Girl by Doctors to Prove the Sexes Are No Different; the Human Guinea Pig in a Bizarre Sixties Social Engineering Experiment Tells How His Life Has Been Wrecked by a Doctor's Obsession


Byline: SHARON CHURCHER;CLARE SMALES;ANNETTE WITHERIDGE

AS a teenager, Brenda Reimer felt hounded and such an outcast in the working-class suburb where she grew up that she often contemplated suicide.

Partly it was her looks. Though the factory worker's daughter wore her glossy brown hair in a fashionable pageboy style and applied lashings of makeup, she had a wiry, almost masculine build and her voice was rapidly deepening to a rumbling baritone.

But more than that, it was her personality.

When other pupils at her high school in Winnipeg, Canada, called her 'Cavewoman', yelling crude comments about her boyish appearance, she would beat them up - just as if she were a boy.

Her secret fantasy was that she would grow up to be a mechanic. 'Everyone is telling me I'm a girl even though I like to do boy stuff,' she would reflect, 'but I don't feel like a girl. So I must be an "it", an alien.'

Though Brenda didn't know it in those tortured days, her image of herself was eerily accurate.

She actually was born a boy, one of twins, on August 22, 1965. But in one of the most macabre and ethically dubious medical experiments in history, an American psychologist, Dr John Money, persuaded the Reimers to allow him to try to turn the baby into a girl after the boy's penis was burned off during a botched circumcision.

Money later claimed the sex-change was a success and feminists flocked to back his theories that the gender gap was about culture, not biology.

However, at 14 Brenda discovered the truth, and after a series of operations, reverted to growing up a male adult and living as a man, called David.

Now 34, he is revealing his story in a sensational new book. More than 125,000 copies of As Nature Made Him are destined for British and American shops. An interview with David is planned on the Oprah Winfrey show.

And much also is being made of a campaign in the Seventies, which Money allegedly mounted, to try to prevent the BBC from discovering the truth about the bizarre scandal.

The reason for the enormous interest is that while David is relatively low on the social scale - now married, he supports his wife and three adopted children by labouring in a Winnipeg meat packing plant - Dr Money is regarded as one of the world's leading authorities on human sexuality.

And what makes him particularly well known are the books, TV documentaries and scientific papers in which for years he has boasted that he changed an unnamed baby boy into a happy and well-adjusted girl through a 12-year programme consisting largely of social and mental conditioning.

HIS glowing accounts of the experiment convinced many of his fellow scientists that most of the psychological differences between men and women - the so-called gender gap - are a result of cultural indoctrination rather than biology.

David Reimer has decided to step forward and identify himself as Money's unwitting human guinea pig because he believes that his happiness was sacrificed for the sake of an experiment which, far from being a triumph, was little better than a callous hoax. It wreaked such havoc on his family that his mother tried to kill herself and David himself made three subsequent suicide attempts.

'It was like brainwashing,' he says of the visits which he was forced to make for years to Dr Money's Psychohormonal Research Unit at the respected Johns Hopkins University campus in Baltimore, Maryland, where, during one especially upsetting session, he attempted to escape by fleeing on to a rooftop.

'My parents didn't know they had options. The doctor told them, "We can just change him into a girl, and no one would ever know the difference."

But I felt like a trapped animal . . .

a freak.

'I was so very lonely. My only two friends in the whole world were my twin brother and my dog. I didn't fit in anywhere and it made me feel very bitter. …

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