When twin brothers David and Brian Reimer were seven months old, they started experiencing problems urinating.
They were diagnosed with phimosis, and the doctor suggested performing a simple routine circumcision. However, the day after the surgery, the boys’ mother, Janet, received a phone call from the hospital that changed her life.
The doctors informed her that David had suffered a horrible accident and his penis burned off.
Janet was horrified. ”I could not comprehend what he was talking about. I thought they were going to use a knife. I didn’t know there was electricity involved.”
A few months after the accident, David’s parents were watching TV when a psychologist Dr. John Money appeared on the screen. He talked about how biology is not what makes humans male or female, but how they are raised.
The couple remembers him as being “charismatic, he seemed highly intelligent and very confident of what he was saying.”
David’s mother wrote to Dr. Money, and after a few weeks, she traveled with her infant son to meet the psychologist. Being a nature/nurture enthusiast, he convinced Janet Reimer to raise her son as a girl since his penis was severely injured.
Dr. Money believed that David was the ideal case study for the debate on nurture vs. nature.
Not only did the psychologist have a guinea pig for his experiment, but he was also provided with a control group to compare David with his twin brother, Brian.
With that, the couple raised their son Brian as a boy, and David was now known as Brenda. And in July 1967, he underwent castration.
Dr. Money told the couple that in order for the experiment to be successful, neither Brian nor Brenda should ever find out that she had been born a boy.
Brenda underwent several hormone treatments, a gender reconstructive surgery and was forced to play with dolls and other girlish toys. However, Brian always shared his toys with his sister because he knew she preferred them over dolls.
As Brenda grew older, Dr. Money would document how “she had many tomboy traits, such as abundant physical energy, a high level of activity, stubbornness, and being often the dominant one in a girl’s playgroup.”
According to him, Brenda’s behavior was so ”normally that of an active little girl, and so clearly different by contrast from the boyish ways of her twin brother.” But what did her parents think of the experiment?
According to Janet, Brenda was “very rebellious. She was very masculine, and I could not persuade her to do anything feminine.”
“Brenda had almost no friends growing up. Everybody ridiculed her, called her a cavewoman.”
Janet recalls Brenda being very unhappy. When she turned 13, she became suicidal.
Dr. Money tried to convince Brenda several times to undergo surgery to reconstruct her body parts and she became terrified by this.
One day, Janet and Ron Reimer decided to stop visiting Dr. Money and tell their sons the dark secret they had been hiding from them all these years.
When Brenda found out that she was born a male, she felt relieved, and things started to finally make sense.
“Suddenly, it all made sense why I felt the way I did. I wasn’t some sort of weirdo. I wasn’t crazy,” David said in an interview.
However, his brother, Brian, found it difficult to accept the truth.
Soon, David started taking testosterone supplements and underwent a double mastectomy.
He also told his friends the truth and even married a woman with three children. When he found out that he was used in an experiment, he reached out to his brother, and they shared their story with the world.
Both David and his twin brother suffered major mental trauma and psychological disturbances due to Dr. Money’s experiment.
In 2002, Brian overdosed on antidepressants. And just two years later, David committed suicide after years of depression and anxiety.
“You can never escape the past,” David told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2000.
“I had parts of my body cut away and thrown in a wastepaper basket. I’ve had my mind ripped away.”
However, he didn’t blame his parents for their decision to change his gender following a tragic accident.
He knew they only wanted what was best for him.