Make biological differences in the matter of sex

Sex experiment ends in suicide

"I survived." With this sentence, the Canadian David Reimer tried again and again as a teenager that a twelve-year experiment in the service of a misguided sexology could not kill him. David Reimer was born a boy and raised a girl after a failed circumcision. He and his identical twin brother Brian should prove that gender is not a matter of nature, but of upbringing.

The once highly acclaimed experiment has now ended as a fiasco: After years of fighting for the true self, the 38-year-old Canadian committed suicide in his hometown of Winnipeg.

David would have become a perfectly normal man if a doctor hadn't burned his penis with an electrical device during a circumcision because of a narrowing of the foreskin. David, who was actually born as Bruce, was eight months old at the time. His charred penis fell off piece by piece over the next few days.

Desperate parents

A year later, the desperate parents turned to the US sex researcher John Money of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, a luminary they happened to see on television. Money argued that gender is a product of socialization and not determined by genes. Therefore, a baby can be transformed into any sexual identity up to the age of 18 months.

This thesis was enthusiastically received in the 1970s and 1980s, especially in the still young women's movement: It was necessary to underpin the fact that traditional women's roles were not biologically predetermined.

In Bruce and his twin brother as an object of comparison, Money saw an opportunity to prove his thesis. The psychologist convinced the very young parents to raise Bruce as a girl. The boy's testicles were operated on when he was 22 months old and he was raised as "Brenda" from then on. Money forbade parents to tell their "daughter" that she was once a boy.

But Brenda rebelled against her feminine identity early on. She acted like a boy and even urinated standing up. The whole family suffered from the secret. The father started drinking, the mother became depressed, the brother became violent, and Brenda became suicidal. Doctor John Money, on the other hand, sold his medical experiment to the world as a success and was celebrated for it.

Brenda's emotional distress became so evident that her father finally told her the truth. The 14-year-old reacted with relief: suddenly everything made sense. She immediately assumed a male identity, called herself David from then on - because of the fight between David and Goliath -, had her breasts removed and an artificial penis made.

Incapable of childbearing

However, David Reimer was unable to father and eventually married a woman with three children. The shadows of childhood abuse did not let go of him. His wife Jane separated from him after ten years, he lost his job and a lot of money that he had invested incorrectly. David Reimer committed suicide in early May.

At the funeral, his mother Janet said, "He was a hero - he showed the doctors." John Money, 83 years old, is a fake professor at Johns Hopkins University. He has always refused to comment on his failed experiment. (Bernadette Calonego from Vancouver / DER STANDARD; print edition, May 19-20, 2004)