David Reimer

David Reimer (August 22, 1965 as Bruce Reimer – May 5, 2004 ) was a Canadian who was born as a male but was sexually reassigned and turned into a woman after his penis was accidentally destroyed during his circumcision . The psychologist John Money oversaw his case, considering that the reallocation of Reimer was successful, and that proved that gender identity was learned. However, sexologist Milton Diamond found that Reimer never identified with a woman, and that he began to live as a man at the age of 15. Reimer ended up making his case public so as to avoid similar practices in the future, and after suffering a severe depression , economic problems and the end of his marriage, ended up committing suicide in 2004. 1 2


David Reimer was born with the name of Bruce, being twin with his brother Brian, in the city of Winnipeg , in Manitoba . The brothers were diagnosed with phimosis six months after birth, so that at eight months they were circumcised . The urologist responsible for carrying out the operation used a method of cauterization with burning electric current that ended David Reimer’s penis. 3

The concern of parents that their child would not be happy or that could have a normal sex life without penis made them decide to take him to Baltimore to see John Money at Johns Hopkins hospital . Money was a psychologist known for his work on gender roles and sexual development from the study of intersex patients . In addition, it was one of the promoters of the theory of gender neutrality , arguing that gender identity was learned from childhood by social learning , and that could be changed. The Reimer marriage had seen John Money on the Canadian news show This Hour Has Seven Days , exposing his theories about the genre. Both he and the doctors who worked with children with abnormalities in their genitals considered that the penis was irreplaceable, but that through surgery a functional vagina could be created , with Reimer more likely to mature sexually successfully as a girl than as a boy.

Finally, Money convinced the parents that reassignment of sex would be most beneficial to Reimer, so when he was 22 months old, he underwent an orchidectomy , removing his testicles . She underwent estrogen treatment and was renamed Brenda. But the parents did not know that John Money (secretly) wanted to use David as part of an experiment to prove his point of view that gender identity is not innate, but is determined by nature and upbringing. Money took care of surgery and psychological support, and for ten years he was seeing Reimer once a year to evaluate the outcome of the operation and reassignment. Reimer’s case was unique to study the influence of the environment on gender roles for two reasons: first, by his twin brother, Brian, who could serve as control of the experiment, sharing genes , family environment and intrauterine environment ; And second, because David was the first person without any anomaly in their sexual differentiation to which they reassigned their sex.

For several years, Money wrote about the case (John / Joan), describing an apparent success in the development of David’s feminine personality, implying the feasibility of reassignment and surgical reconstruction even in people who were not Intersex. Money wrote:

Her behavior is clearly like that of a girl, very different from the ways of her twin brother’s boy.

The notes taken by a student from Money’s lab during the annual control visits reveal that David Reimer’s parents were lying to the lab staff about the experiment’s success; Brenda (David) spontaneously assumed the male role and rejected the feminine role.

For David Reimer, control visits to Baltimore were traumatic rather than therapeutic . When psychologist Money tried to convince the family to implant Reimer a vagina through surgery, the family abandoned the control visits. Since he was orchidectomized, David Reimer urinated through a hole he had been practicing in his abdomen. During adolescence, she was given estrogens to cause the growth of the breasts . When leaving the family to make the periodic visits, Money stopped publishing on the case, without implying that the experiment had failed.

Two decades later, Reimer wrote along with John Colapinto how, contrary to what John Money wrote, during the period he lived as Brenda never identified with a girl. His companions intimidated him and gave him away, not even the frilly dresses (which he was forced to wear during the icy winter of Calgary ), nor the female hormones made him feel like a woman. At age 13 he began to suffer depression, and told his parents that he would commit suicide if they forced him to see Dr. Money again. Following the advice of David ‘s endocrinologist and psychiatrist , in 1980 his parents told him the truth about his reassignment. At age 14, Reimer decided to assume his male role, and became David’s name. In 1997 , Reimer had been treated to reverse the reassignment, which included injections of testosterone , a double mastectomy , and two phalloplasty operations . He also married a woman and became the stepfather to his three children.

His case was internationally acclaimed in 1997, when he told his story to Milton Diamond, a sexologist who persuaded him to let him tell his story, and thus avoid repeating cases like his. In December of that year, John Colapinto published in the magazine Rolling Stone its case. 4 He then wrote a book about David Reimer’s story, The Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl .


Colapinto shared the proceeds from the sale of the book with Reimer, which helped his financial situation. However, Reimer had other problems. The difficult relationship with his parents was added the death of his brother Brian motivated by an overdose of antidepressants on July 1, 2002 . Add to that the lack of employment and the separation of his wife Jane. On May 2, 2004 she told him that she wanted to separate, causing David to leave home and not return. On May 5 the police called Jane to tell her that they had found her husband, but they did not want to tell him where. They called again after two hours informing her of her suicide. David had returned home taking advantage of an absence of her to take a cropped shotgun. On the morning of 5 he parked his vehicle, and inside it was shot in the head. Reimer’s father, driven by guilt, also committed suicide. 5 6


The publication of the book ended up influencing several medical practices, in addition to helping to better understand the biology of the genre.

Her case provided support for scientists who believe that prenatal and childhood hormones strongly influence brain differentiation and gender identity. There is also skepticism about reassignments, even if they are in intersex people with deficiencies or insensitivity to testosterone. The North American Intersex Society, which opposes involuntary reassignments, considers Reimer’s story as a teaching of why the genitals of minors should not be modified. 7


  1. Back to top↑ Dr Money and the Boy with No Penis
  2. Back to top↑ Nature or Nurture, The Case of the Boy Who Became a Girl Keith K. Schillo
  3. Back to top↑ CBC news (May 10, 2004). «David Reimer. The boy who lived as a girl ” (in English) . Accessed December 2, 2010 .
  4. Back to top↑ John Colapinto (December 11, 1997). “The True History of John Joan” (in English) . Rolling Stone. Pp. 54-97 . Retrieved on December 3, 2010 .
  5. Back to top↑ John Colapinto (June 3, 2004). «Gender Gap. What were the real reasons behind David Reimer’s suicide? ” (In English) . Slate . Retrieved on December 3, 2010 .
  6. Back to top↑ http://www.abc.es/sociedad/20150824/abci-david-reimer-experimento-sexo-201508211445.html
  7. Back to top↑ Intersex Society of North America. “Intersex Society of North America” (in English) . Accessed December 4, 2010 .