Man Raised as a Girl Challenges Theories on Sexual Identities

Article excerpt

David Reimer is a Canadian factory worker in his 30s, with a wife and three children. He enjoys fishing, backyard barbecues and working on his car.

But for 15 years of his life, David was Brenda - raised as a girl even though he had been born a perfectly healthy boy with a twin brother.

The amazing story of how David Reimer went from boy to girl before eventually demanding that he would be a man has created an upheaval in theories of sexual identity.

"It's challenged a lot of the notions that I just accepted growing up in the 1970s," says John Colapinto, a journalist for Rolling Stone who tells Mr. Reimer's story in a new book, "As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As a Girl."

After a botched circumcision on their infant son in 1966, Mr. Reimer's parents consulted John Money, a famous psychologist and pioneering sex researcher at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Mr. Money, who has been credited with coining the term "gender identity," had persuaded Johns Hopkins to become the first hospital in America to perform trans-sexual surgery in 1965. He claimed parental influences and society formed sexual identity, so that the sense of being male or female was created "in the course of the various experiences of growing up."

Mr. Money convinced the Reimers their son, by then nearly 2 years old, should undergo sex-change surgery and be raised as a girl. They agreed, and the radical surgery was performed at Johns Hopkins in 1967. Years of therapy followed.

Influential scientists cited the success of the case Mr. Money referred to as "John/Joan" as proof of his theory that "the sexual behavior and orientation as male or female does not have an innate, instinctive basis." In 1973, Time magazine said the "dramatic case provides strong support for a major contention of women's liberationists: that conventional patterns of masculine and feminine behavior can be altered."

During the decades while the "proof" of Mr. Money's theory was influencing both politics and science, however, there was one problem: His theory wasn't working with young "Brenda" Reimer.

Despite being outfitted in frilly dresses, despite years of counseling and therapy, despite hormone treatments beginning at age 10, Brenda insisted she was a boy.

His parents finally told him the truth. At age 17, Brenda began medical treatment to become a man. Although the surgical damage inflicted on him at age 2 was in some ways irreversible, in 1990 David Reimer married a woman with three children from previous marriages and takes pride in being a loving husband and father.

Mr. Reimer's story contradicts much of what Americans have believed for decades about sexual identity, says Mr. …