The end of the David Reimer story is a sad one. I didn’t begin this story to depress anyone. I began it so as to be able to eventually highlight a certain characteristic of our culture, in hopes we could trace back to find some ultimate cause—and therefore, a solution.
But since I’ve come this far, I suppose I need to tell the end of the story, sad as it is, then trace back from there.
No sooner had Diamond and Sigmundson’s exposé of John Money’s failed experiment appeared in the March 1997 issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, than media picked up the story. The New York Times published a report on the piece with the headline, “Sexual Identity Not Pliable After All, Report Says”. Time magazine—which had gleefully trumpeted Money’s “success” 24 year earlier—followed suit, now announcing “the experts had it all wrong” and describing the story as “a lesson in scientific hubris”.
You’ll recall from last time Reimer’s shock at hearing that Money had spent years describing his case as a success, and that because of Money’s lies, surgeons around the world now routinely did to babies what Money’s team had done to him. Determined to stop Money and his unconscionable medical malpractice, Reimer decided to keep sharing his story with the world.
Using an alias, Reimer first granted an extended interview to Canadian journalist John Colapinto. The result was arguably the most important article Rolling Stone has ever published—a 20,000 word piece called “The True Story of John/Joan”. (Colapinto later turned his article into a book called As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl).
Reimer then decided to appear with his mother, using his own name, on the The Oprah Winfrey Show (a few minutes of which you can see here). Now feeling more confident, he appeared on various radio and TV shows, including Dateline NBC and Good Morning America. He next sat for an extended interview for the CBC show “The Fifth Estate”, footage from which was afterward used in several documentaries. One was a BBC documentary which you can watch here, and whose narrator concludes by saying, “Nature, as far as gender identity is concerned, cannot be overridden by nurture…This (story) is what can happen when science pursues a ‘beautiful’ theory with scant regard for the human cost”. Another was a Learning Channel documentary, whose four parts you can watch here: 1, 2, 3, and 4). Reimer even convinced his reluctant twin brother Brian to appear. Among other benefits of Brian appearing, David believed a second testimony would lend force to his own. That would help convince the medical establishment to reject Money’s claims and cease the surgeries. At least, that’s what David Reimer thought.
What happened next wasn’t what David (or his brother) expected. Yes, Oprah, the BBC, Colapinto, and various other reporters and medical experts believed David and acknowledged Money’s fraud. But to the brothers’ distress, rather than widespread professional repudiation of Money and the surgeries he inspired…nothing much changed. The medical establishment just kept on doing what it had been doing for years: following Money’s recommendations to turn boys into girls whenever boys had underdeveloped, damaged, or intersex genitals. Adding to their distress was that a parade of Money’s cult-groupies in academia began publicly defending their guru, praising him as a visionary, endorsing his past practices, conveying his messages to the media, blaming the Reimer parents for the experiment’s failure, and most woundingly of all, suggesting the Reimer brothers had hallucinated their memories of Money’s abuse.
For example, starting at :37 of this video, you can watch lifelong Money acolyte Richard Green—then a research director at the Charing Cross Hospital Gender Identity Clinic in London—convey Money’s denial of the abuse, and then suggest the Reimer twins’ memories were false. (Elsewhere in one of the documentaries, Green proclaims Money a “genius”).
Another Money cult groupie, Kenneth Zucker of the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in Toronto, published an article in Pediatrics suggesting that Money’s experiment only appeared to be a failure. The jury was actually still out. The reason, Zucker implied, was that no one could 10000% absolutely prove beyond any doubt why exactly it had failed—and therefore, it was possible that Reimer’s parents had ruined the experiment by not following Money’s child rearing instructions strictly enough. Consequently, everyone should assume Money’s theory of psychosexual neutrality at birth remained viable.
(Where did Zucker get the idea for this absurd “sleight of mind” attempt? Most likely, from John Money himself. As Zucker later admitted to Rolling Stone journalist Colapinto, Money had essentially masterminded his article. Money had even provided Zucker with the article’s main story about another little boy who’d received the surgery and the Money-style childrearing, but who—unlike David Reimer—was now living happily as a woman (meaning, of course, that Money’s theory was true). But when Colapinto pressed Zucker for details on the fake sounding case, Zucker admitted he’d never met the person and hardly knew anything about him. The unverifiable story was obviously another Money fabrication—yet Zucker’s article had already appeared in the high status, peer-reviewed, official journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics.)
In the few comments Money himself made about his now-exposed failed experiment, he blamed the media controversy on “right wing forces” with an “anti-feminist agenda” bent on “sending women back into the kitchen”. He claimed his academic enemies had targeted him because of personal vendettas. He claimed he wasn’t responsible for the failure since David Reimer never returned to see him after fourteen and Money didn’t know how to contact him (which was not true) and a dozen other pathetic excuses. But most relevant to the Reimer twins was Money’s accusation that the twins were making up their abuse claims, and that their motive was wealth and fame.
The accusations of lying from Money and his academic goon squad stung the Reimers. So did what looked like indifference on the part of the medical establishment. An exasperated David would later tell an interviewer: “I’m living proof…if you’re not going to take my word as gospel, because I have lived through it, who else are you going to listen to? Who else is there?…Is it going to take somebody to wind up killing themselves, shooting themselves in the head for people to listen?” David’s brother Brian, in particular, took the reaction hard. He’d never fully recovered from the bitter shock of finding out his parents had lied to him for fourteen years about his twin brother. Nor had he been able to reconcile himself to the incestous (and now, he realized, homosexual) sexual behavior John Money had forced him and “Brenda” to simulate on each other as kids, at times disrobed, as Money took photos. For years before his appearance with David on TV, he had struggled to overcome his feelings of revulsion, mistrust, resentment, dissociation, and humiliation. At times, these inner challenges, as well self-medicating alcohol and drug use, pushed him into schizophrenic states.
David had hoped their appearance on TV might help them find peace. Together, they would destroy John Money. They would save thousands of other boys from unnecessary castration and penectomy. They would come together as brother and brother, something which Brian had struggled with since the day he first discovered “Brenda” wasn’t a girl at all.
Instead, Brian’s despair grew after the TV show he appeared in aired in 2002. It’s not clear to what extent it was the accusations from Money’s cheerleaders, or despair brought on by renewed focus on the memories, or even some inherited predisposition to depression. But whatever the reasons, it wasn’t too long after the world saw this short scene (start at 5:06), that Brian ended his life with an overdose of antidepressants.
A devastated David Reimer, no doubt feeling partly responsible for his brother’s slide, visited his grave four or five times a week. Vowing to rise above this latest tragedy in his life, he threw himself into living up to his promise to be a good husband and father. For some years, he had worked clean-up at the local slaughterhouse to pay the bills. But recently, David had found himself a bit more financial security after the hospital agreed to pay him damages for his injury, John Colapinto shared royalties from As Nature Made Him with him, and a movie studio paid him an advance for the rights to his story.
Eager to increase his family wealth even further, David decided to invest his new money with someone he’d met at the local golf course, where he often worked. This turned out to be a terrible mistake. He lost everything. Now in his late thirties, qualified only for, at best, semi-skilled labor, he found himself broke, unable to find a steady job, and unable to fulfill the role of breadwinner. Angry at himself, desperate to keep his promise to be a good husband and father, afraid his wife Jane might leave him, and unable to please her sexually the way other men could, David felt unnerved, dumb, and inadequate. Financial stresses led to more and more tiffs with his wife—a woman he believed God had sent to him. As each day of 2004 unfolded, David Reimer felt more and more like a failure—and even worse, a failure with no chance of ever becoming a success again. He had once felt faith. He had once believed God had sent him a miracle and answered his prayers. But when I try to put myself in his place in that moment, I can imagine him wondering if he’d just been imagining all the God stuff. He has to have felt entirely alone, and consumed by a feeling of total life failure—a cold, dark, deeply nauseating feeling unrelieved by any hope at all.
Unsure of how else to get out of their marital rut, David’s wife met with him on May 2, 2004, and told him she believed they needed to take a break. Separate for a little while. Re-set. Jane says she never mentioned divorce. She just felt they needed some time apart to reflect and refocus.
But in his vulnerable state, David found this crushing. He went home to see his mom. He burst into tears, saying repeatedly he couldn’t make Jane happy. And that meant that he’d failed to be a good husband and father; he’d failed to be the kind of man he had believed he was destined to be, and wanted to be. Out of money, out of work, out of hope, out of faith, and fearing he was out of love, 39 year old David Reimer took his own life two nights later with a single shotgun blast to the head. It was in the early nighttime hours of May 4, 2004. David Reimer’s tragic life stands as testament of all sorts of things, and raises all sorts of questions. So does the career of John Money. So do the careers of all Money’s cheerleaders. So does the plucky impudence of Milton Diamond. And so does the fact that now, seventeen years later, the insidious lunacy Money championed is even worse than when he was around: the surgeries, the denials of biology and reality, the pedophilia, the cynical invocation of science as a means to terminate all debate and practice the most outrageous forms of misrule and abuse, and a hundred other things, all of which now make up part of the sick, totalitarian ideology of Wokism. How exactly did our culture ever come to this, and how do we get out? Somehow or other, we must find light again. More thoughts on that in the weeks to follow.
Tal will continue the conversation here next week. Mark Steyn Club members can weigh in on this column in the comment section below, one of many perks of club membership, which you can check out here.