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David Reimer

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David Reimer
Bruce Peter Reimer

(1965-08-22)22 August 1965
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Died4 May 2004(2004-05-04) (aged 38)
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Cause of deathSuicide by gunshot
Resting placeSt. Vital Cemetery, Winnipeg
Other names
  • Brenda Reimer
Jane Fontane
(m. 1990)

David Reimer (born Bruce Peter Reimer; 22 August 1965 – 4 May 2004) was a Canadian man raised as a girl following medical advice and intervention after his penis was severely injured during a botched circumcision in infancy.[1]

The psychologist John Money oversaw the case and reported the reassignment as successful and as evidence that gender identity is primarily learned. The academic sexologist Milton Diamond later reported that Reimer's realization that he was not a girl occurred between the ages of 9 and 11 years[2] and that he was living as a male by the age of 15. Well known in medical circles for years anonymously as the "John/Joan" case, Reimer later went public with his story to help discourage similar medical practices. He killed himself at age 38.



David Reimer was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on 22 August 1965, the elder of identical twin boys.[3] He was originally named Bruce, and his identical twin was named Brian.[4] Their parents were Janet and Ron Reimer, a couple of Mennonite descent who had married in December 1964.[4] At the age of six months, after concern was raised about how both of them urinated, the boys were diagnosed with phimosis.[5] They were referred for circumcision at the age of seven months. General practitioner Jean-Marie Huot performed the operation using the unconventional method of electrocauterization,[6][7] but the procedure burned David's penis beyond surgical repair.[8] The doctors chose not to operate on Brian, whose phimosis soon cleared without surgical intervention.[9]

The parents, concerned about their son's prospects for future happiness and sexual function without a penis, took him to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in early 1967 to see John Money,[10] a psychologist who was developing a reputation as a pioneer in the field of sexual development and gender identity, based on his work with intersex patients.[11] Money was a prominent proponent of the "theory of gender neutrality"—that gender identity developed primarily as a result of social learning from early childhood and that it could be changed with the appropriate behavioural interventions.[12] The Reimers had seen Money being interviewed in February 1967 on the Canadian news program This Hour Has Seven Days, during which he discussed his theories about gender.[13] Reimer was raised under the "optimum gender rearing model", which was the common model for sex and gender socialization/medicalization for intersex youth. The model has been heavily criticized as sexist.[14]

At that time, surgical construction of the vagina was more advanced than construction of the penis, and Money believed that Reimer would be happiest in adulthood living as a woman with functioning genitalia.[15][16]

Money and the Hopkins family team persuaded the baby's parents that sex reassignment surgery would be in Reimer's best interest.[17] At the age of 22 months, David underwent a bilateral orchidectomy, in which his testes were surgically removed and a rudimentary vulva was constructed by genital plastic surgery.[18] David was reassigned to be raised as female and given the name Brenda (similar to his birth name, "Bruce").[19] Psychological support for the reassignment and surgery was provided by[20] John Money, who continued to see Reimer annually[21] for consultations and to assess the outcome.[22] This reassignment was considered an especially important test case[23] of the social learning concept of gender identity for two reasons: first, Reimer's identical twin brother, Brian, made an ideal control because the brothers shared genes, family environments, and the intrauterine environment; second, this was reputed to be the first reassignment and reconstruction performed on a male infant who had no abnormality of prenatal or early postnatal sexual differentiation.[1]

Forced "sexual rehearsal"[edit]

Money reported on Reimer's progress as the "John/Joan case", describing apparently successful female gender development, even after David informed his father at age 14 that he had always felt that he was a boy, bringing the experiment to an end.[24]

According to John Colapinto, who published a biography of Reimer in 2001, the sessions with Money included what Money called "childhood sexual rehearsal play".[25] Money theorized that reproductive behaviour formed the foundation of gender, and that "play at thrusting movements and copulation" was a key aspect of gender development in all primates. Starting at age six, according to Brian, the twins were forced to act out sexual acts, with David playing the female role—Money made David get down on all fours, and Brian was forced to "come up behind [him] and place his crotch against [his] buttocks". Money also forced David, in another sexual position, to have his "legs spread" with Brian on top. On "at least one occasion" Money took a photograph of the two children doing these activities.[25]

When either child resisted these activities, Money would get angry. Both David and Brian recall that Money was mild-mannered around their parents, but ill-tempered when alone with them. When they resisted inspecting each other's genitals, Money got very aggressive. David says, "He told me to take my clothes off, and I just did not do it. I just stood there. And he screamed, 'Now!' Louder than that. I thought he was going to give me a whupping. So I took my clothes off and stood there shaking."[25]

Money's rationale for these various treatments was his belief that "childhood 'sexual rehearsal play'" was important for a "healthy adult gender identity".[25]

Both David and Brian were traumatized[25][26] with Brian speaking about it "only with the greatest emotional turmoil", and David unwilling to speak about the details publicly, although his wife, Jane Fontane, stated that David had privately told her the same story.[25]

Puberty and adolescence[edit]

Estrogen was given to David during adolescence, therefore inducing breast development.[27]

For several years, Money reported on Reimer's progress as the "John/Joan case". Money wrote, "The child's behavior is so clearly that of an active little girl and so different from the boyish ways of her twin brother."[28]

The twins attended Glenwood School in Winnipeg, and from the age of 14, David attended R.B. Russell Vocational High School. He eventually ceased attending the school and was tutored privately.[15]

By the age of 13 years, Reimer was experiencing suicidal depression and he told his parents he would take his own life if they made him see Money again.[29] Finally, on 14 March 1980, Reimer's parents told him the truth about his sex reassignment,[30] following advice from Reimer's endocrinologist and psychiatrist. At the age of 14, having been informed of his past by his father, Reimer decided to assume a male gender identity, calling himself David. He underwent treatment to reverse the reassignment, including testosterone injections, a double mastectomy, and phalloplasty operations.[31][32]


Reimer worked in a slaughterhouse and then worked doing odd jobs.[33][34] On 22 September 1990, he married Jane Fontane and would adopt her three children.[35][36] His hobbies included camping, fishing, antiques and collecting old coins.[37]

His case came to international attention in 1997 when he told his story to Milton Diamond, an academic sexologist who persuaded Reimer to allow him to report the outcome in order to dissuade physicians from treating other infants similarly.[2] Soon after, Reimer went public with his story and John Colapinto published a widely disseminated and influential account[38] in Rolling Stone magazine in December 1997.[39] The article won the National Magazine Award for Reporting.[40]

This was later expanded into The New York Times best-selling biography As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl (2000),[41] in which Colapinto described how—contrary to Money's reports—when living as Brenda, Reimer did not identify as a girl. He was ostracized and bullied by peers (who dubbed him "cavewoman"),[7][42] and neither frilly dresses[43] nor female hormones made him feel female.


In addition to his difficult lifelong relationship with his parents, Reimer was unemployed and experienced remorse due to the death of his brother Brian from an overdose of antidepressants on 1 July 2002. On 2 May 2004, his wife Jane told him she wanted to separate. On the morning of 4 May 2004, Reimer drove to a grocery store's parking lot in his hometown of Winnipeg[44][45] and shot himself in the head.[46] He was 38 years old.[47] He and Brian are buried in St. Vital Cemetery in Winnipeg.[48]

Money never commented publicly on Colapinto's book or on Reimer's suicide, although colleagues said he was "mortified" by the case.[49]


For the first 30 years after Money's initial report that the reassignment had been a success, Money's view of the malleability of gender became the dominant viewpoint in the field, reassuring practitioners that sexual reassignment was the correct decision in certain instances.[50] Researcher Mary Anne Case argues that Money's view on gender also fuelled the rise of the anti-gender movement.[51]

Diamond's report and Colapinto's subsequent book about Reimer influenced[clarification needed] several medical practices, reputations, and even current understanding of the biology of gender. The case accelerated the decline of sex reassignment and surgery for unambiguous XY infants with micropenis, various other rare congenital malformations, or penile loss in infancy.[50][verification needed]

Colapinto's book described unethical and traumatic childhood therapy sessions and implied that Money had ignored or concealed the developing evidence that Reimer's reassignment to female was not going well.[26]


The BBC science series Horizon based two episodes on his life. "The Boy Who Was Turned into a Girl" aired in 2000 and "Dr Money and the Boy with No Penis" in 2004.[52][53]

A 2001 episode of the PBS documentary series Nova entitled "Sex: Unknown" investigated David's life and the theory behind the decision to raise him as female.[54][55]

An episode of BBC Radio 4 Mind Changers, "Case Study: John/Joan—The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl", discusses the impact on two competing psychological theories of nature vs. nurture.[56]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Chicago Hope episode "Boys Will Be Girls" (2000) was based on Reimer's life. The episode explored the theme of a child's right not to undergo sexual reassignment surgery without consent.
  • Reimer and his mother appeared on an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2000.
  • The NYPD Blue episode "Dress for Success" (aired 2004, season 12, episode 1) features a fictional character with many similarities to Reimer. The character was injured during circumcision, raised as a girl, and ultimately transitioned again to live as a man.
  • The Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Identity" (2005) was based on David and Brian Reimer's lives and their treatment by Money.[57]
  • "Hymn of the Medical Oddity", a song by the Winnipeg-based indie rock band The Weakerthans, concerns Reimer.[58][59]
  • Boy (2016), a play produced by the Ensemble Studio Theatre, was inspired by Reimer's story.[60]
  • Taiwanese film Born to be Human (2021) shares a similar plotline to Reimer's story, where a child undergoes sexual reassignment surgery without consent at the insistence of an authoritative doctor.[61]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Colapinto 2001a.
  2. ^ a b Diamond & Sigmundson 1997.
  3. ^ Harper 2007, p. 43; Rolls 2015, p. 133.
  4. ^ a b Rolls 2015, p. 133.
  5. ^ Colapinto 2001a, p. 10; Mann 2016, pp. 183–184.
  6. ^ Colapinto 2001a, pp. 11–13.
  7. ^ a b "Health Check: The Boy Who Was Raised a Girl". BBC News. 23 November 2010. Archived from the original on 31 December 2014. Retrieved 19 December 2014.
  8. ^ Rolls 2015, p. 134.
  9. ^ "David Reimer: The Boy Who Lived as a Girl". CBC News. 10 May 2004. Archived from the original on 7 August 2012. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  10. ^ Colapinto 2001a, p. 49.
  11. ^ Mann 2016, p. 184.
  12. ^ Colapinto 2001a, pp. 33–34.
  13. ^ Colapinto 2001a, pp. 18–22, 39.
  14. ^ Alice D. Dreger; April M. Herndon. "Progress and Politics in the intersex rights movement, Feminist theory in action" (PDF).
  15. ^ a b Colapinto, John (2001). "As Nature Made Him". maxima-library.org. p. 32. Archived from the original on 27 February 2021. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  16. ^ Bailey JM, Vasey PL, Diamond LM, Breedlove SM, Vilain E, Epprecht M (September 2016). "Sexual Orientation, Controversy, and Science". Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 17 (2): 45–101. doi:10.1177/1529100616637616. PMID 27113562. S2CID 42281410.
  17. ^ Colapinto 2001a, pp. 50–52.
  18. ^ Colapinto 2001a, pp. 53–54.
  19. ^ Marinucci 2010, p. 124.
  20. ^ Colapinto 2001b, pp. 50–52.
  21. ^ Colapinto 2001b, p. 119.
  22. ^ Warnke 2008, p. 16.
  23. ^ Walker 2010, p. 33.
  24. ^ Puluka, Anne (2015). "Parent versus State: Protecting Intersex Children from Cosmetic Genital Surgery". Michigan State Law Review. 2015: 2095.>
  25. ^ a b c d e f Colapinto 2001b, pp. 86–88.
  26. ^ a b Burkeman, Oliver; Younge, Gary (12 May 2004). "Being Brenda". The Guardian: G2. London. p. 2. Archived from the original on 25 June 2021. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  27. ^ Balthazart 2012, p. 25.
  28. ^ Money, John; Ehrhardt, Anke A. (1972). Man & Woman, Boy & Girl. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press. Cited in Halpern 2012, p. 163.
  29. ^ Colapinto 2001b, pp. 137–141.
  30. ^ Eskridge & Hunter 2003, p. 127.
  31. ^ "Man raised as girl dies". CBC News. 10 May 2004. Archived from the original on 23 November 2020. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  32. ^ Woo, Elaine (13 May 2004). "David Reimer, 38; After Botched Surgery, He Was Raised as a Girl in Gender Experiment". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 11 June 2019. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  33. ^ "David Reimer, 38; After Botched Surgery, He Was Raised as a Girl in Gender Experiment". Los Angeles Times. 13 May 2004. Archived from the original on 11 June 2019. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  34. ^ Plante, Rebecca F.; Mau, Lis M. (17 April 2018). Doing Gender Diversity: Readings in Theory and Real-World Experience. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-429-98056-5. Archived from the original on 25 June 2021. Retrieved 23 September 2020 – via Google Books.
  35. ^ Beh & Diamond 2005, p. 12; Goldie 2014, p. 187; Rolls 2015, p. 144.
  36. ^ Boodman, Sandra G. (29 February 2000). "A Terrible Accident, a Dismal Failure". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 9 May 2018. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  37. ^ Smith, Graeme (11 May 2004). "Boy raised as a girl suffered final indignity". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 1 November 2020. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  38. ^ Angier, Natalie (20 February 2000), "X + Y = Z", The New York Times, archived from the original on 9 February 2019, retrieved 25 September 2018, Colapinto wrote a long story about the case for Rolling Stone, which won him a National Magazine Award.
  39. ^ Colapinto, John (1997). "The True Story of John/Joan". Rolling Stone. No. 775. New York: Straight Arrow Publishers. pp. 54–97. ISSN 0035-791X.
  40. ^ Bockting 2010, p. 378.
  41. ^ Koch 2017, p. 143.
  42. ^ Karkazis 2008, p. 74.
  43. ^ Colapinto 2001b, p. 115; Warnke 2008, p. 21.
  44. ^ Woo, Elaine (13 May 2004). "David Reimer, 38; After Botched Surgery, He Was Raised as a Girl in Gender Experiment". Los Angeles Times. p. B12. Archived from the original on 10 June 2016. Retrieved 25 June 2016.
  45. ^ "Archive.ph". Los Angeles Times. 13 May 2004. Archived from the original on 19 October 2022. Retrieved 8 September 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  46. ^ McQuail 2018; Rolls 2015, p. 145.
  47. ^ "David Reimer, 38, Subject of the John/Joan Case". The New York Times. The Canadian Press. 12 May 2004. Archived from the original on 28 May 2015. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  48. ^ "St. Vital Cemetery Burial Search – The Municipal Cemeteries Branch". City of Winnipeg. Archived from the original on 9 November 2017. Retrieved 20 September 2021.
  49. ^ Carey, Benedict (11 July 2006). "John William Money, 84, Sexual Identity Researcher, Dies". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 14 March 2022.
  50. ^ a b "Sex: Unknown". Nova. 2001. PBS. Transcript.
  51. ^ Case, Mary Anne (2019). "Trans Formations in the Vatican's War on 'Gender Ideology'". Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 44 (3). University of Chicago Press: 645. doi:10.1086/701498. ISSN 0097-9740. S2CID 149472746. Archived from the original on 12 May 2021. Retrieved 12 May 2021. John Money... gave ammunition to the opponents of 'gender ideology' through his fraudulently deceptive claims about the malleability of gender in certain patients who had involuntarily undergone sex reassignment surgery.
  52. ^ "The Boy Who Was Turned into a Girl". Horizon. BBC. 7 December 2000. Archived from the original on 25 May 2015. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  53. ^ "Dr Money and the Boy with No Penis". Horizon. BBC. 2005. Archived from the original on 22 December 2014. Retrieved 27 September 2014.
  54. ^ "NOVA | Past Television Programs | Season 28: January – December 2001 | PBS". PBS. Archived from the original on 11 June 2019. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  55. ^ "NOVA Online | Sex: Unknown". PBS. Archived from the original on 3 April 2019. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  56. ^ "BBC Radio 4 – Mind Changers, Case Study: John/Joan – The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl". BBC. Archived from the original on 8 February 2021. Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  57. ^ "Treatment of Circumcision on TV". The Intactivism Pages. Archived from the original on 28 December 2008. Retrieved 1 February 2009.
  58. ^ Gaetano 2017.
  59. ^ Stewart, M. D. (4 October 2007). "Metaphorical Cats, Medical Oddities and Men with Brooms". Fast Forward Weekly. Calgary: Great West Newspapers. Archived from the original on 5 December 2014. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  60. ^ Epstein, Sonia Shechet (22 April 2016). "Anna Ziegler's Boy, an EST and Keen Company Production". Sloan Science & Film. Museum of the Moving Image. Archived from the original on 7 May 2018. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  61. ^ Lukanov, Martin (15 March 2021). "Film Review: Born to be Human (2021) by Lily Ni". Asian Movie Pulse. Retrieved 13 June 2022.


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