The Irresponsibility of Dr. John Money

Dr. John Money is well known in the medical field for his groundbreaking research into sex and gender. He is most prominent for his theory that gender is learned rather than inborn as reported in his 1972 book: Man and Woman, Boy and Girl. This was mostly based on his experiments with the Reimer twins, which followed an infant who was the victim of a botched circumcision and as a result received an orchidectomy (complete removal of testicles). The injured child was reared as if he were a female child, and his twin was the perfect control for this study. My research will show that Dr. Money’s routines of analysis and publication prior to the twins reaching puberty were irresponsible and have led to the case being used as the foundation of infant sex assignment surgeries being performed on intersex children without informed consent.

In August of 1965, Janet Reimer gave birth to twin boys. At seven months of age, one of the twins, David (for ease of reading I will refer to this child with his chosen name and he/him pronouns throughout the essay), underwent routine infant circumcision, at which time the electrical equipment malfunctioned and the penis was almost entirely burnt off. The damage was too severe to be surgically corrected at that time. The parents contacted Dr. Money and based on his research into intersex people, the doctor theorized that babies were gender neutral for the first two years of their lives and therefore nurture won out over nature in the matter of gender roles and identity. With this in mind, Dr. Money personally advised the Reimers to go forward with removing the baby’s gonads along with attempting to create a rudimentary vulva and raising him as a girl. At 22 months old, baby David received such surgery and was promptly renamed, put into dresses, presented with toys typically considered for girls, and included in stereotypically feminine activities. The family was told to never reveal any of this to the child or others, as that would automatically ruin the experiment.

When the twins were seven years old, the doctor published his findings and announced his study to be a success. The family was never informed that this information would be published and used to support the medical model of performing sex assignment surgeries on intersex children (those born with genital abnormalities). At home, the child behaved in a stereotypically masculine manner. He preferred his brother’s toys and was unhappy with the feminine expectations placed upon him. The doctor’s transcripts and the twins’ memories show that Doctor Money was well aware of the truth that David didn't embrace his“female identity” Beginning around the time that he deemed his theory correct, he engaged in several attempts to convince David that he should have surgery to create a vagina so that he would look like “other girls”. Dr. Money showed the twins explicit pictures of women giving birth and engaging in sex acts. They were forced by the screaming doctor to undress in front of one another and perform mock sexual positioning not only in the presence of Dr. Money, but up to six of his colleagues, while pictures were taken. This type of torture masquerading as therapy occurred until at the age of 12 David threatened to kill himself if he had to continue working with John Money. In his early teen years, David was extremely depressed, socially isolated and hopeless. Around the age of 15, the twins were finally told by their parents about David's biological sex, the injury, the surgeries and experimentation. David quickly decided to physically and socially transition back to life as a male. He switched from estrogen to testosterone hormone treatment, cut his hair shorter, adopted his new name and eventually had top and bottom surgery to reflect his correct gender identity.
As an adult, David received an unknown sum of money as a result of a medical malpractice suit related to the circumcision. David married his wife, Jane, and became a father to her children from a previous relationship. He felt loved for who he was for the first time in his life; things were looking up. Although life was certainly improved once he was able to live as a man, there was still much undealt-with trauma. He and his twin, Brian, were confronted with their own troubling memories, which were at odds with the official success story that they learned of from Milton Diamond, a human sexuality researcher, in 1997. By this time, the twins did not have a close relationship, in part due to David's feelings that Brian had abandoned him when he most needed protection as a child. Diamond broke the news within the medical establishment that Dr. Money's infamous experiment was actually a failure. It was at this point that David managed to convince Brian that they needed to go public themselves. Soon after, Brian was diagnosed with schizophrenia, possibly in relation to chronic trauma and abuse, and on July 1, 2002, he died of a suspected intentional overdose of his antidepressant medications. Only two years later David- now broke, unemployed, and separated from his wife- also ended his own life.
Dr. Money played an invaluable role in Western understanding of sex and gender, but has also caused infant genital mutilation to be the accepted standard of care for intersex infants and children. He has been the subject of 65 honors, awards, and degrees. He founded the Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic in 1965 and coined multiple terms still used in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders). However, even with a lifetime of achievements, institutions are distancing themselves from his memory. The John W. Money Endowed Fund previously available at Johns Hopkins can no longer be found on their website, and there does not appear to have been any recipients of the John Money Fellowship for Scholars of Sexology offered by the Kinsey Institute, which houses Dr. Money's lifelong work and papers, since 2015. Dr. John Money’s findings using the Reimer twins are entirely based on confirmation bias. Surgeries were already being performed on intersex children, and he wanted to show that this was acceptable. He ignored and falsified data from the traumatic sessions with David and Brian in order to wrongly prove what he already believed. He did not wait until the twins surpassed puberty, which would make ethical and logical sense when dealing with hormones, to publish his findings. Dr. Money never publicly apologized, admitted his errors or took any responsibility for the mental anguish the Reimer family endured at his hands. Privately, however, it is said that he was ashamed of his mistakes. Gender theory has entirely changed in the last fifty years. We now know that gender is influenced many multiple factors, but that attempts to change a child’s gender identity is psychologically traumatic. For all of these reasons,the medical community must renounce Dr. Money's work and commit to updating its standards of care based on the recommendations of the most current intersex-competent research.

Queer she/her reader/writer PTSD/BPD ACOA Feminist on lifelong quest to learn more and be a better human Like my content?