February 23rd 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Something rotten led to fish-kill: perhaps fishy environmentalism

EDITORIAL Resistance grows to Beijing's soft-power push

CANBERRA OBSERVED Climate change: deadly ... to political leaders

TECHNOLOGY Electric cars: UK taxpayers subsidise rich greenies


CYBER SECURITY Chinese smartphone threat extends way beyond Huawei

SOCIETY Such grandeur of spirit

POLITICS John Hewson should have as sturdy a Constitution

FINANCE Hayne royal commission sets agenda for bank reform

FAMILY RELATIONS Dad: a girl's first and most influential love

COMMENTARY Words gone feral: rights and equality

MEDICINE AND CULTURE Book captures tragedy of falling foul of a fanatic

SOCIETY AND CULTURE A dog's life: reflections of a grey nomad


MUSIC Serialism a killer: Ideas tend to get in the way

CINEMA Cold Pursuit: Revenge served up manic

BOOK REVIEW Why the West and nowhere else

BOOK REVIEW The escalation of horror and atrocity


FAMILY AND SOCIETY The end of Liberalism

SPECIAL EDITORIAL Has Cardinal George Pell been wrongly convicted?

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Book captures tragedy of falling foul of a fanatic

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, February 23, 2019

As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl

by John Colapinto, Harper Collins, Sydney

Twins are invaluable to scientists as objects of study, because no two people are genetically closer than identical twins. Had Bruce and Brian Reimer not been identical twins, it is possible that Dr John Money would not have pursued Bruce (later Brenda, then David) as relentlessly as he did.

For Money (who was a psychologist, not a medical doctor), his determination to pursue Bruce throughout his life was intended to prove, once and for all, that nurture is superior to nature.

Bruce was born a boy. His penis was burned off by a botched exercise in electrocautery: that is, removing his foreskin using an electric instrument, similar to the wires on a toaster, because of a very minor medical condition. Bruce’s brother Brian had the same condition, which cleared up naturally in a about a month.

I have spoken to doctors who routinely perform circumcisions, and they say a surgical circumcision is a minor operation and things rarely go wrong.

Now, it must be stressed that Bruce was born a boy. He had male genitals; his penis was burned off by accident. The decision was then made to castrate baby Bruce and raise him as a girl, named Brenda. His two testicles were intact; they were later surgically removed. His parents agreed to this procedure.

For Money, Bruce/Brenda was a golden opportunity to push forward a theory he had been advancing since the mid-1950s: the primary factors driving human psychosexual differentiation are learning and environment, not biology. The “twins case” was to become famous in medical literature dealing with sexual development.

Dr John Money was born in New Zealand. He was head of the Psycho-hormonal Research Unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, a renowned research and teaching hospital.

Money was not, however, a medical specialist. His doctorate was in psychology. He commonly used sexually obscene films to “educate” young children, and peppered his speech with four-letter words.

Other researchers demonstrated that much of his work was based on fallacious premises but such was his influence in psychosexual circles that their warnings were ignored. His genius for self-promotion meant that he gained immense power in the medical community.

Money’s case was bolstered by the emerging feminist movement, whose leading lights applauded his contention that people are made, not born. The “twins case” was a unique opportunity to prove that personality and gender are “socially determined”.

The problem for Money was that Brenda never behaved like a girl. Brenda’s parents, who were raised on farms in a Mennonite tradition and married very young, were not familiar with medicine or psychology. They took as gospel Money’s instructions to treat Brenda as a girl at every opportunity.

But Brenda rebelled. From the age of two, Brenda was a tomboy. When Brenda entered school, Brenda was accepted as neither a boy nor a girl. If a boy teased Brenda about “her” appearance, “she” would beat him up. Nor was Brenda an intersex baby: that is, having characteristics of both sexes. Intersex babies present a whole different set of problems. Brenda was a boy, he was born with male genitals, which were surgically removed.

As Brenda grew older, the consumption of female hormones to create female characteristics, such as breasts, was trenchantly resisted. As Brenda grew older, his true sexual identity, which had been hidden from him, was revealed. Brenda changed his name to David, a name he preferred to Bruce. He began living as a male. He married and became the stepfather to three young children.

David had over the years been treated by several psychiatrists, who, with one exception, were unable to help him. Mary McKenty, a gifted therapist who specialised in treating troubled adoles­cents, was the only psychiatrist who could reach him. McKenty helped David achieve something approaching normality. In the meantime, Money’s sexual theories had been discredited.

The medical profession is like every other body of practitioners. Once a body of knowledge has been accepted as orthodoxy, it is extremely difficult to overturn it.

Dr Paul McHugh, a highly motivated medical professional, was hired by Johns Hopkins to reverse Money’s grip on sexual policy. Professor Milton Diamond of the University of Hawaii proved years ago that Money’s theories were fallacious, but his views did not gain wide acceptance due to Money’s superstar status.

David’s case, rather than proving that nurture trumps nature, is an interesting study in the sociology of knowledge. The social status of medical professionals is such that few outsiders will challenge their decisions, especially when the medical professionals act as a group.

In David’s case, it was blindingly obvi­ous that Money’s experiment was not working; it was obviously not working when David was still a child. David was told that he was a girl, but he acted like a boy.

When David Reimer eventually married, he said that it was a man’s duty to support a family, and he did that. When David lost his job, his world fell apart. He had money, but no sense of purpose. On May 4, 2004, at the age of 38, he took his own life.

David Reimer struggled to rescue his life from an accident of fate. He was treated as a guinea pig by an arrogant man and an arrogant profession.

His disturbed childhood and troubled adolescence robbed him of a normal education. He was a boy in girl’s clothing. In the end, life was too much for him.

John Colapinto is sympathetic but retains his objectivity. Had those treating David Reimer been the same, David’s life might have been different.

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm