Gender ideology essentially holds that gender is constructed, not determined genetically at birth. It considers that it is the environment, education, social and family relationships and eventually, the desire of every individual, that determines the sex assigned to each person (included transsexuality).

However, there does not appear to be any medical evidence to sustain this stance; on the contrary, it seems that the genetic sex is the most decisive factor for defining the sexual status of an individual, not what gender ideology maintains.

In the midst of all this controversy, the case of David Reimer appears to have come to shed an undeniable light. David was a young transsexual, who eventually committed suicide after a turbulent life. His story was told in Spanish online newspaper ABC digital (http://www.abc.es/ sociedad, on 24th August 2015) see english version: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2004/06/gender_gap.html

Brenda, as he became known, did not know that he had been born male until he was 15 years old. It was one afternoon in 1980 when his father, haunted by the suffering he witnessed, revealed to him the story that he had been keeping secret: he had been born in Canada as Bruce, together with his twin brother Brian, but medical negligence during a routine circumcision procedure in 1965 had destroyed his genitals.

In a desperate attempt for their child to have a normal life, his parents contacted a psychologist, who assured them that sexual status is not innate, but is determined by education in the early years of life. In other words, if Bruce was treated as Brenda, he would become a full woman, instead of suffering as a man without a penis. The psychologist in question was John Money, a doctor at Johns Hopkins hospital (Baltimore), famous for his theories on gender. Furthermore, it was an unequalled opportunity for Money to prove his theories, as he would have a control subject: Brian, with the same genetic makeup as his brother, but who would have a different orientation.

On 3rd July 1967, Bruce underwent surgical castration (removing his testicles) and a vagina was shaped. Bruce became Brenda, and at the same time a guinea pig. Meanwhile, the instructions to his parents, Janet and Ron, were clear: never tell him what had happened.

The children grew and the situation became complicated. As Janet, now in her nineties, told Rolling Stone journalist John Colapinto, the first time that she tried to put a dress on Brenda, she tried to tear it off. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my God, she knows she’s a boy and she doesn’t want girls’ clothing!”. But that was not the only thing. When her brother played at shaving with their father, Brenda wanted to as well. “My dad said, ‘No, no. You go with your mother’. I started crying, ‘Why can’t I shave, too?’, he recalled. Since she was small, she had insisted on urinating standing up.

For his part, her twin identified Brenda as a sister. “But she never, ever acted the part”  “She’d get a skipping rope for a gift, and the only thing we’d use that for was to tie people up, whip people with it. Never used it for what it was bought for. She played with my toys: Tinkertoys, dump trucks. Toys like this sewing machine she got just sat”.

However, when Dr. Money published his first book on the “John/Joan study” (as he had christened it) five years later, under the title “Man Woman Boy Girl”, the conclusions stated were the opposite. Money assured that after having emphasised the use of feminine clothes, Brenda already had a clear preference for dresses. That she felt proud of her long hair. That for Christmas she had asked for a doll’s house and a stroller. That gender orientation had been imposed.

But when Brenda reached adolescence, she suffered from depression and had tried to commit suicide at least once. She also took oestrogens. When Dr. Money urged her to undergo further surgery, she outright refused. It was then that her parents decided to tell her everything. Brenda could become a boy again. He chose the name “David” in honour of the biblical hero who, defying all the odds, killed the giant Goliath. He underwent a phalloplasty and the breasts that had grown as a result of the hormones were removed. When he was 25, he got married.

Tragically, both twins ended up committing suicide within two years of each other. His family had been shattered. His mother Janet fell into repeated clinical depression that required hospitalisation. His father Ron became an alcoholic. His twin Brian dropped out of school and tried to commit suicide on several occasions, until he managed to do so in 2002. Two years later, at 38 years of age, David did the same, having divorced his wife three years previously.

Objective medical support against gender ideology. The story of David Reimer came to light in 1997, thanks to Dr. Milton Diamond at the University of Hawaii, who convinced David that telling his story would help to ensure that it never happened to anyone else.

There appears to be little more to add to this controversial case which, due to its unique nature, cannot proclaim anything definite on gender ideology. Nevertheless, it does provide objective, albeit partial support against it.

 

Justo Aznar

Bioethics Observatory

Catholic University of Valencia