David Reimer was born in 1965 along with his twin brother, but during his circumcision at the age of eight months, his pe*nis was unintentionally destroyed. Dr. Jean-Marie Huot, a general practitioner, used the unusual method of electrocauterization to perform the circumcision. But things did not go according to plan, and David’s pe*nis was so badly burned that there was no way to save it.
Dr. John Money, a psychologist who thought gender was a social construct and that a child could be raised as either male or female regardless of their biological se*x, was the person to whom his parents were referred. Dr. Money suggested that David have gender reassignment surgery and be raised as a girl based on this theory.
After approving the surgery, David’s parents started raising him like a girl and gave him the name Brenda. But David never truly identified as a woman because he battled with his gender identity as he grew older. David started to feel more and more alone, even after obtaining hormone treatments and additional surgeries to create female genitalia.
He decided to live as a man at the age of 14, and he had additional surgeries to undo the gender reassignment process.
David Reimer’s Fight for Identity
David received estrogen during his adolescence, which caused his breasts to develop.
Money tracked Reimer’s development for several years under the moniker “John/Joan case.” According to Money, “The child’s actions are distinctly those of an energetic young girl and substantially distinct from the masculine behavior of her twin brother.”
Reimer started having suicidal thoughts at the age of 13, telling his parents he would kill himself if they made him see Money once more.
On March 14, 1980, Reimer’s parents came clean about his gender reassignment on the advice of his endocrinologist and psychiatrist. After hearing about his father’s past at the age of 14, Reimer made the decision to identify as a man and took on the name David.
In order to reverse his gender reassignment, he had a double mastectomy, phalloplasty procedures, and testosterone injections.
David’s life was profoundly affected by his experience, and in the years that followed his gender reassignment surgery, he battled substance abuse and depression.
He wed Jane Fontane on September 22, 1990, and they would go on to adopt her three children, but he was still dealing with identity issues and the trauma he had endured as a child.
When Reimer told his story to academic se*xologist Milton Diamond in 1997, it became internationally known. In an effort to dissuade medical professionals from treating other infants in a similar manner, Diamond persuaded Reimer to allow him to publicly reveal the results.
Jane, Reimer’s wife, told him she wanted to dissolve their marriage on May 2, 2004. On May 4, 2004, Reimer drove to his hometown of Winnipeg and used a sawed-off shotgun to shoot himself in the head. He died the next morning. He was 1938.
The Ethics of Gender Reassignment
Important considerations regarding the morality of gender reassignment surgery and the role of medical professionals in establishing an individual’s gender identity were brought up by the David Reimer case. Many critics contend that Dr. Money’s methods were unethical and that his approach to gender reassignment was based on flawed science.
Discussions regarding the value of informed consent and the necessity for medical professionals to think through the long-term effects of their decisions have been sparked by this case.
The Medical Community’s Response to the David Reimer Case
Some have criticized the medical community’s response to the David Reimer case for failing to consider the moral ramifications of gender reassignment surgery. Critics contend that the medical profession ought to have understood the complexities of gender identity more deeply and promoted gender reassignment surgery with more caution.