John Money became famous for the "John/Joan" case; he assigned one of two identical twin boys to grow up as a girl. The tragic life story of the child, David Reimer is recounted in the book "As Nature Made Him." I was deeply affected by the book. David's life story is a lesson to all of us. Psychopathologists need to make sure their theories do not exceed their evidence, and people should be free to be who they are.

John Money & the Joan-Joan Case-Study

Madeline, What do you think of the John Joan case? Did you read the book about it? How do you feel about what John Money did? Is this what you do as a psychologist? ~ Anonymous

Hi Anonymous,

This case study is probably the most well known graphic example supporting an innate gender identity hypothesis. This study isn't a perfect experimental test of innateness (i.e.: his first 17 months were as a boy and the parent's were aware of their child's past) but the story is so profound especially since John Money was trying to demonstrate the opposite conclusion (and he tried *very* hard with the parent's *full* cooperation). For an academic journal article with the *real* (rather than John Money's version) conclusion of the John/Joan case see:

Diamond, Milton. (1997). "Sexual identity and sexual orientation in children with traumatized or ambiguous genitalia" Journal of Sex Research. Vol 34(2), 1997, 199-211.

I'm sorry to say I haven't read it yet. But it's on my list but I'm finishing some research this week. There's also a non-academic book about David Reimer's life story. (David's life was the John/Joan Case). The title is "As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl" and the author is John Colapinto. It's amazingly well written .. which I guess is what happens if the author's career is being a journalist for Rolling Stone rather than getting caught up in a really dry academic style. :-)

My girlfriend and I read this book together over a few nights. We were both really affected by it. On a personal level, I could identify a lot with David. Lisa said she felt she understood some things I told her a lot better from the book. For example, I had told her about how I would practice being a boy but I didn't go into depth. I guess the idea seemed so obvious to me but she found it very obtuse. After reading how David practiced being a girl she exclaimed, "Oh! Now I get it!" We're also both psychology graduate students and we were amazed at how incredibly unethical John Money could be! Lisa just went on an on saying, "Is he in jail yet??, He should be castrated himself for doing that!, etc. I just kept wondering what John's side could possibly be because what David is described doing is so *incredibly* immoral. And I kept thinking about how when I conduct research with children. If they say "no" I accept their answer with maybe only a "please?" to continue. But I ask children to do is things like "color me a picture" ... and I let their parent's watch us from behind a one-way mirror. (Parents are usually embarrassed if their children won't participate). But David said "no" to John Money over and over again ... like refusing to take estrogen ... but John kept pushing and trying to psychologically manipulate him. I can't see how John Money could rationalize doing this??? And seeing how all of these other researchers just stood by knowing what was going on??? It was like a real-life version of the Milgram conformity studies!!!!

The only redeemable researcher in the entire book was (Mickey) Milton Diamond. I wish I had the book with me so I could quote this section. But when Mickey finally found David. While David was telling Mickey his story, Mickey got teary-eyed so David knew he could trust him. It was touching to see a researcher have sensitivity for David rather than seeing him as just an objective abstraction, a pawn, for advancing theory.

It's not like being a good scientist somehow makes it impossible to be sensitive??? Like, my participants constantly amaze me. I'm truly in awe of what these children do and say and feel. And, to me, it's that sense of awe which pushes me to dig deeper into the issues rather than just doing the simple surface-level research. I only wish most researchers studying sexuality (which includes those studying transsexuals) could and would experience the same awe when looking at the lives of their participants.



David Reimer & Milton Diamond

Here is the excerpt from John Colapinto's "As Nature Made Him" (pg. 208-209) that I was speaking about in the above letter. Please also see Milton Diamond's on-line articles for more information.

Diamond flew to Winnipeg to meet David. Over lunch at a local diner, David learned for the first time about his own fame in the medical literature and how the reported success of his case stood as the precedent upon which thousands of sex reassignments had since been performed - and continued to be performed. "'There are people who are going through what you're going through every day,'" David recalls Diamond telling him, "'and we're trying to stop that.'" David was staggered. "I figured I was the only one," he says. "And here Diamond tells me they're doing all these surgeries based on me. That's why I decided to cooperate with Mickey." And there was another reason: David sensed in Diamond one of those people whose response to his sufferings was not purely detached and clinical. "When I told him a few things about my life," David says, "I saw that Mickey had tears on his cheeks."


David Reimer (1965 to 2004)

I am sad to say that David Reimer died May 4, 2004 at the age of 38. His suicide is a tragic end to a tragic life-story. I know my thoughts, and those of many other psychological scientists, are with his family. Our condolences.