David Reimer

David Reimer
David Reimer.jpg
Bruce Peter Reimer

(1965-08-22)22 August 1965
Died4 May 2004(2004-05-04) (aged 38)
Cause of deathSuicide by gunshot
Resting placeSt. Vital Cemetery, Winnipeg
Other names
  • Brenda Reimer
  • Bruce Reimer
Jane Fontane
(m. 1990)
  • Ron Reimer
  • Janet Reimer[1]
RelativesBrian Henry Reimer (identical twin)

David Reimer (born Bruce Peter Reimer; 22 August 1965 – 4 May 2004) was a Canadian man born male but reassigned female and raised as a girl following medical advice and intervention after his penis was severely injured during a botched circumcision in infancy.[2]

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 crystallized between the ages of 9 and 11 years[3] and he transitioned to living as a male at age 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 after suffering severe depression.[4]


David Reimer was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on August 22, 1965, the elder of identical twin boys.[5] He was originally named Bruce, and his identical twin was named Brian.[6] Their parents were Janet and Ron Reimer, a couple of Mennonite descent who had married the previous December.[6] At the age of six months, after concern was raised about how both of them urinated, the boys were diagnosed with phimosis.[7] They were referred for circumcision at the age of seven months. General practitioner Dr. Jean-Marie Huot performed the operation[citation needed] using the unconventional method of electrocauterization,[8][9] but the procedure did not go as doctors had planned, and David's penis was burned beyond surgical repair.[10] The doctors chose not to operate on Brian, whose phimosis soon cleared without surgical intervention.[11]

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,[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15]

Money and physicians working with young children born with intersex conditions believed that a penis could not be replaced but that a functional vagina could be constructed surgically.[9] Money also claimed that Reimer would be more likely to achieve successful, functional sexual maturation as a girl than as a boy.[16][page needed][failed verification] For Money, a case where identical twin boys were involved where one could be raised as a girl provided a perfect test of his theories.[17][18]

Money and the Hopkins team persuaded the baby's parents that sex reassignment surgery would be in Reimer's best interest.[19] At the age of 22 months, David underwent a bilateral orchidectomy, in which his testes were surgically removed and a rudimentary vulva was fashioned.[20] David was reassigned to be raised as female and given the name Brenda (similar to his birth name, "Bruce").[21] Psychological support for the reassignment and surgery was provided by[22] John Money, who continued to see Reimer annually[23] for consultations and to assess the outcome.[24] This reassignment was considered an especially important test case[25] 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 second reassignment and reconstruction performed on a male infant who had no abnormality of prenatal or early postnatal sexual differentiation.

Later childhood and adolescence

Reimer said that Money forced the twins to rehearse sexual acts involving "thrusting movements", with David playing the bottom role. Reimer said that, as a child, he had to get "down on all fours" with his brother, Brian Reimer, "up behind his butt" with "his crotch against" his "buttocks". Reimer said that Money forced David, in another sexual position, to have his "legs spread" with Brian on top. Reimer said that Money also forced the children to take their "clothes off" and engage in "genital inspections". On "at least one occasion", Reimer said that Money took a photograph of the two children doing these activities. Money's rationale for these various treatments was his belief that "childhood 'sexual rehearsal play'" was important for a "healthy adult gender identity".[16][page needed] Estrogen was given to David during adolescence, inducing breast development.[26]

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."[27] Notes by a former student at Money's lab state that, during the follow-up visits, which occurred only once a year, Reimer's parents routinely lied to lab staff about the success of the procedure. The twin brother, Brian, later developed schizophrenia.[18]

The twins attended Glenwood School in Winnipeg, with David then attending R.B. Russell Vocational High School, from the age of 14. He eventually ceased attending the school and was tutored privately.[28]


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 March 14, 1980, Reimer's parents told him the truth about his gender reassignment,[30] following advice from Reimer's endocrinologist and psychiatrist. At 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 September 22, 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.[3] 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"),[9][42] and neither frilly dresses,[43] nor female hormones made him feel female.


In addition to his difficult lifelong relationship with his parents, Reimer had to deal with unemployment and the death of his brother Brian from an overdose of antidepressants on July 1, 2002. On May 2, 2004, his wife Jane told him she wanted to separate. On the morning of May 4, 2004, Reimer drove to a grocery store's parking lot in his hometown of Winnipeg[44] and took his own life by shooting himself in the head with a sawed-off shotgun.[45] He was 38 years old.[4] He was buried in St. Vital Cemetery in Winnipeg.[46]


For the first thirty 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 among physicians and doctors, reassuring them that sexual reassignment was the correct decision in certain instances, resulting in thousands of sexual reassignments.[47]

The report and subsequent book about Reimer influenced 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.[47]

John Colapinto's biography of Reimer became a New York Times bestseller.

Colapinto's book described unpleasant childhood therapy sessions, implying that Money had ignored or concealed the developing evidence that Reimer's reassignment to female was not going well. Money's defenders have suggested that some of the allegations about the therapy sessions may have been the result of false memory syndrome and that the family was not honest with researchers.[48]

The case has also been treated by Judith Butler in her 2004 book Undoing Gender,[49] which examines gender, sex, psychoanalysis, and the medical treatment of intersex people.


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.[17][18]

A 2001 episode of the PBS documentary series Nova entitled "Sex: Unknown" investigated David's life and the science behind the decision to raise him as female.[50][51]

He was also mentioned in the 2017 documentary Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric.

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.[52]

In popular culture

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.[53] The Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Identity" (2005) was based on David and Brian Reimer's lives and their treatment by Money.[53]

"Hymn of the Medical Oddity", a song by the Winnipeg-based indie rock band The Weakerthans, is about Reimer.[1][54] The Ensemble Studio Theatre produced the play Boy (2016) inspired by Reimer's story.[55]

See also



  1. ^ a b Gaetano 2017.
  2. ^ Colapinto 2001a.
  3. ^ a b Diamond & Sigmundson 1997.
  4. ^ a b "David Reimer, 38, Subject of the John/Joan Case". The New York Times. The Canadian Press. 12 May 2004. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  5. ^ Harper 2007, p. 43; Rolls 2015, p. 133.
  6. ^ a b Rolls 2015, p. 133.
  7. ^ Colapinto 2001a, p. 10; Mann 2016, pp. 183–184.
  8. ^ Colapinto 2001a, pp. 11–13.
  9. ^ a b c "Health Check: The Boy Who Was Raised a Girl". BBC News. 23 November 2010. Retrieved 19 December 2014.
  10. ^ Rolls 2015, p. 134.
  11. ^ "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.
  12. ^ Colapinto 2001a, p. 49.
  13. ^ Mann 2016, p. 184.
  14. ^ Colapinto 2001a, pp. 33–34.
  15. ^ Colapinto 2001a, pp. 18–22, 39.
  16. ^ a b Colapinto 2001b.
  17. ^ a b "The Boy Who Was Turned into a Girl". Horizon. BBC. 7 December 2000. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  18. ^ a b c "Dr Money and the Boy with No Penis". Horizon. BBC. 2005. Retrieved 27 September 2014.
  19. ^ Colapinto 2001a, pp. 50–52.
  20. ^ Colapinto 2001a, pp. 53–54.
  21. ^ Marinucci 2010, p. 124.
  22. ^ Colapinto 2000, pp. 50–52.
  23. ^ Colapinto 2000, pp. 136.
  24. ^ Warnke 2008, p. 16.
  25. ^ Walker 2010, p. 33.
  26. ^ Balthazart 2012, p. 25.
  27. ^ Money, John; Ehrhardt, Anke A. (1972). Man & Woman, Boy & Girl. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press. Cited in Halpern 2012, p. 163.
  28. ^ "As Nature Made Him". maxima-library.org.
  29. ^ Colapinto 2000, pp. 137–141.
  30. ^ Eskridge & Hunter 2003, p. 127.
  31. ^ "Man raised as girl dies". CBC News. 10 May 2004. 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. 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.
  34. ^ Mau, Rebecca F. Plante,Lis M. (17 April 2018). Doing Gender Diversity: Readings in Theory and Real-World Experience. Routledge. ISBN 9780429980565 – 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. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  37. ^ "Boy raised as a girl suffered final indignity" – via The Globe and Mail.
  38. ^ Angier, Natalie (20 February 2000), "X + Y = Z", New York Times, 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 2001, 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. Retrieved 25 June 2016.
  45. ^ McQuail 2018; Rolls 2015, p. 145.
  46. ^ "St. Vital Cemetery Burial Search". City of Winnipeg. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  47. ^ a b "Sex: Unknown". Nova. 2001. PBS. Transcript.
  48. ^ Burkeman, Oliver; Younge, Gary (12 May 2004). "Being Brenda". The Guardian: G2. London. p. 2. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  49. ^ Butler 2004, pp. 58–74.
  50. ^ "NOVA | Past Television Programs | Season 28: January - December 2001 | PBS". www.pbs.org. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  51. ^ "NOVA Online | Sex: Unknown". www.pbs.org. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  52. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Mind Changers, Case Study: John/Joan - The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl". BBC. Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  53. ^ a b "Treatment of Circumcision on TV". The Intactivism Pages. Retrieved 1 February 2009.
  54. ^ 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.
  55. ^ Epstein, Sonia Shechet (22 April 2016). "Anna Ziegler's Boy, an EST and Keen Company Production". Sloan Science & Film. Museum of the Moving Image. Retrieved 7 May 2018.


Balthazart, Jacques (2012). The Biology of Homosexuality. New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199838820.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-983882-0.
Beh, Hazel Glenn; Diamond, Milton (2005). "David Reimer's Legacy: Limiting Parental Discretion". Cardozo Journal of Law and Gender. 12 (5): 5–30. hdl:10125/34765. ISSN 1074-5785. SSRN 1446966.
Bockting, Walter O. (2010). "Nurturing Nature and the Nature of Science: Toward Transcendence". The Journal of Sex Research. 37 (4): 378–379. doi:10.1080/00224490009552061. ISSN 1559-8519. S2CID 216092298.
Butler, Judith (2004). Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge (published 2015). ISBN 978-0-203-49962-7.
Colapinto, John (2001a). As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-019211-2.
 ———  (2001b). As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. New York: Harper Perennial (published 2006). ISBN 978-0-06-092959-6.
Diamond, Milton; Sigmundson, H. Keith (1997). "Sex Reassignment at Birth: Long-Term Review and Clinical Implications". Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 151 (3): 298–304. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1997.02170400084015. PMID 9080940. Retrieved 15 May 2013 – via University of Hawaii.
Eskridge, William N., Jr.; Hunter, Nan D. (2003). Sexuality, Gender and the Law: 2003 Supplement. New York: Foundation Press. ISBN 978-1-58778-655-6.
Gaetano, Phil (2017). "David Reimer and John Money Gender Reassignment Controversy: The John/Joan Case". Embryo Project Encyclopedia. Tempe, Arizona: Arizona State University. hdl:10776/13009. ISSN 1940-5030. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
Goldie, Terry (2014). The Man Who Invented Gender: Engaging the Ideas of John Money. Vancouver: UBC Press. ISBN 978-0-7748-2794-2.
Halpern, Diane F. (2012). Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities (4th ed.). New York: Psychology Press. ISBN 978-1-136-72283-7.
Harper, Catherine (2007). Intersex. Oxford: Berg. ISBN 978-1-84788-339-1.
Karkazis, Katrina (2008). Fixing Sex: Intersex, Medical Authority, and Lived Experience. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-8921-7.
Koch, Michaela (2017). Discursive Intersexions: Daring Bodies between Myth, Medicine, and Memoir. Practices of Subjectivation. 9. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript Verlag. ISBN 978-3-8394-3705-6.
Mann, Sandi (2016). Psychology: A Complete Introduction. London: John Murray Learning. ISBN 978-1-4736-0930-3.
Marinucci, Mimi (2010). Feminism is Queer: The Intimate Connection between Queer and Feminist Theory. London: Zed Books. ISBN 978-1-84813-475-1.
McQuail, Josephine A., ed. (2018). Janet Frame in Focus: Women Analyze the Works of the New Zealand Writer. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-1-4766-2854-7.
Rolls, Geoff (2015). Classic Case Studies in Psychology (3rd ed.). London: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-84872-270-5.
Walker, Jesse (2010). "The Death of David Reimer: A Tale of Sex, Science, and Abuse". In Plante, Rebecca F.; Maurer, Lis M. (eds.). Doing Gender Diversity: Readings in Theory and Real-World Experience. New York: Routledge (published 2018). pp. 33ff. ISBN 978-0-429-98056-5.
Warnke, Georgia (2008). After Identity: Rethinking Race, Sex, and Gender. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-511-39180-4.

Further reading

Colapinto, John (2004). "Gender Gap: What Were the Real Reasons behind David Reimer's Suicide?". Slate. Retrieved 13 February 2009.
Money, John; Ehrhardt, Anke A. (1972). Man & Woman, Boy & Girl: The Differentiation and Dimorphism of Gender Identity from Conception to Maturity. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Money, John; Tucker, Patricia (1975). Sexual Signatures: On Being a Man or a Woman. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
Preves, Sharon E. (2002). "Sexing the Intersexed: An Analysis of Sociocultural Responses to Intersexuality". Signs. 27 (2): 523–556. doi:10.1086/495696. ISSN 1545-6943. JSTOR 3175791. S2CID 29560193.

External links

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