A Horror, Ended

For many years, a story haunted me. It was a story told in graphic detail to a bunch of priests and teachers, one of whom was me, by a doctor in our stake; a story about a baby boy who lost his penis during a botched circumcision, and who was then surgically altered to become female by his ignorant parents and by malicious doctors in order to cover up the “mistake.” The larger point of the story, of course, was to impress upon us the level of wickedness and sexual disregard in the world today by way of an anecdote which presumed the principle of gender essentialness. I’m not sure it worked; trying to scare or horrify someone into righteousness and/or orthodoxy usually doesn’t. But I never forgot the story, and I always wondered what kind of hell that child had been thrust into.

An awful one, as it turns out. Over the years I would occasionally hear different versions of that same story, always with some variation on the basic details. For a long time I assumed it was just an urban legend. But then a while back I ran across an article which told the full story: of David Reimer, born in 1965 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, butchered accidentally as an infant and then permanently traumatized by the monstrous hubris of one Dr. John Money, who–as Paul Cella aptly put it–placed a “real flesh and blood sacrifice at the altar of the twin gods Liberation and Rationalism.”

Last month David Reimer, who had struggled long and hard to overcome what had been done to him and to find some peace and happiness, committed suicide. Those who knew his sad story well tell it here and here.

16 comments for “A Horror, Ended

  1. June 3, 2004 at 6:59 pm

    That’s awful. I remember seeing a Dateline several years back on David, and I could tell then that this was a person with a great deal of emotional anguish. Based on the telling of the story on Dateline, I think it’s fair to say that at least some of the trauma inflicted on David were the result of interactions with his family, who did their best to hide the doctor’s error but who probably communicated to the developing child, in more than one subtle way, that “she” was indeed a mistake.

  2. cooper
    June 3, 2004 at 7:15 pm

    Mr. Colapinto put it best. Hubris, coupled with ignorance and trust in one well educated, ended this boys life before it really began.

  3. obi-wan
    June 3, 2004 at 7:39 pm

    I suspect that there is a good deal more going on here than meets the eye, or the loaded and simplistic reports Russell is relying upon.

    I had an LDS classmate in law school who was an ob/gyn before taking up law. Based on his professional experience, he had a very difficult time with some of what circulates in the Church about gender essentialism.

    Births of children with ambiguous gender are not infrequent. The problem is not so much chromosomal as developmental; some degree of surgery is necessary to define the child as having the primary sex characterisitics of one gender or the other. When faced with the delivery of such children, he would simply make a choice based on his best judgment and hope that the child proved to be happy with the gender he’d picked.

    The point being that random gender selection happens with some degree of frequency; that this story cannot necessarily be generalized to all those whose doctors have had to make such a choice; and that such choices occur with some regularity without recourse to “hubris” or “liberation” or “rationalism” — just necessity and professional judgment.

  4. June 3, 2004 at 8:17 pm

    Dave Reimer sounds like a very good person wh was was caught up in horrors he couldn’t control (caused by a number of incompetent or egocentric doctors). It was interesting to read that he got a gun and went after the doctor who botched the circumcision — but then didn’t do anything to harm the man. A lot of people would have pulled the trigger in that situation. What a sad story.

  5. Sheri Lynn
    June 3, 2004 at 9:58 pm

    This case doesn’t challenge gender essentialism. His dysphoria was perfectly reasonable. I’m glad God has the power to heal these things, because we sure don’t–we generally make them worse!

    Now transsexuals do challenge gender essentialism. I have now known four people who wanted to change genders. (Is that a high amount? I hope so!!! I hope there aren’t so many out there as it could seem!)

    One actually went and had extensive reassignment surgery, even including the bones of his face, to become as female as he could be. I note that his (“her”) blog shows that he (“she”) remains a profoundly unhappy person in many ways, and I also note that his (“her”) hobbies and lifestyle remain in many ways masculinized. I knew this particular person well when he was a young man. There was absolutely no clue…! I was stunned to find out what had happened. Oh, it was awful for his family.

    The other three persons I knew with gender dysphoria have had to live with themselves as they are, money being too short for the surgery. They may be marginally less unhappy than the one who was surgically reassigned. One just settled down into married life with someone who could tolerate his wife’s dysphoria. The second has found a community (the science fiction/fantasy fandom community) which is tolerant enough that he can get away with cross dressing socially. He can even do it sometimes and not others, and nobody feels uncomfortable in his presence. Somehow I don’t think there are many LDS wards that could make him feel at home. :-( Too bad, he IS a nice person and also needs salvation.

    The other got himself thrown out of the Air Force very near to retirement, when he tried to get them to provide the surgery to him. He is living the best he can in between worlds. He gave up on crossdressing because he can’t do it well. He wanted me to help him with makeup and clothes.

    I couldn’t help him. :sigh: It felt so wrong, and clothes don’t make me female. I could wear jeans every day for the rest of my life and still feel quite feminine. I never understood why he was so desperate to put on dresses or why that would in any way help. (My gosh, he wasn’t a great looking man, and I’m glad I never saw him trying to pass for female–don’t believe he could do it…not even in a dark bar after 6 drinks, my husband says.)

    You’ve probably guessed by now that I don’t believe you can change your gender and that I think that gender dysphoria is a mental illness, not a genuine case of the wrong spirit in a body. I believe that it’s like any other temptation or mental illness. You don’t treat it by giving in to it. It’s obviously painful.

  6. Ethesis
    June 3, 2004 at 11:46 pm

    One of the first designers of RTS games changed genders. Before his/her death from cancer, hesh had a website that was a combination of game theory, singles advertisement and advice not to engage in gender changing surgery.

    Eventually after he died the website came down for nonpayment of fees, so the article isn’t active any more, but it was very sad to read.

  7. VeritasLiberat
    June 4, 2004 at 1:51 am

    I agree with Sheri Lynn that this case does not challenge gender essentialism, because the child in this case was not born with ambiguous gender. (In cases where a child is truly intersex, choosing a gender may be the way to go, although I wonder if surgery could be put off until the individual is old enough to choose for him/herself.)

    But this kid was not intersex. He was born a normal boy. After the loss of his penis, it was decided to surgically turn him into a girl in order to preserve sexual functioning. As part of this surgery, they removed his testes, thus eliminating his chances of ever fathering children.

    It is significant that “sexual activity” was valued over “reproductive potential” in this case.

  8. Luke
    June 4, 2004 at 1:54 am

    Thereis a reasonably big transgender community in the university town I live and work in. plus my job brings me in touch with a lot of the runaways, vagrants, streetpeople, and members of the G/L/B/T community. My limited experience has been that the transgendered people, are very deeply mentally ill people, who arei n need intense mental health intervention. Even those few I know who fully like the transgendered life, in an accepting community in the very liberal-left town we live in, are deeply unhappy, and unfulfilled lives. Seems to me they are folks who have serious underlying mental health issues, that they try to compensate for, or cure themselves, by turning to inappropriste gender behavior. Of course it is vry politically incorrect to suggest that in these PC days..
    Same with the 15 or 16 yr old runaways, who claim that they are gay or lesbianand hence persucuted? i sometimes wonder if a person is mature enough at 15 to know for sure that they are suffering from same sex attraction. What if the kid was maybe socially inept, or had mental health issues or family issues, and latched on to the thinking that somehow, indulging in SSa would improve their condition in life? This might wellll happen, since kids in schools in communities such as mine are indoctrinated since elementary shool that SSA behavior is quite Ok

  9. Jeremiah J.
    June 4, 2004 at 3:53 pm

    “Liberation and rationalism”? I don’t quite see it Russell. Dr. Money’s disturbing project doesn’t seem any more ‘rationalist’ than any number of medical views which would see sex as a basic biological characteristic which is only changed with great difficulty and potential for harm. Perhaps ‘technological’ would fit better. It also seems strange to argue that Dr. Money was trying to liberate anyone.

  10. Gary Cooper
    June 4, 2004 at 6:35 pm


    Thanks for bringing this subject to T&S. I’ve been following it on various news sites.

    You might be interested to know that “Dr.” (calling him that sticks in my craw as much as referring to the S.S. monsters in Auschwitz’s medical experiments as “doctors” does) Money has never stated one word of apology or regret for the harm he caused to Mr. Reimer and many, many others. Not one word. His last name is apt, though, as he has done quite well for himself financially and professionally up unto this very day. “Whosoever offendeth one of these little ones, it would be better for them that a millstone be placed around their neck, and they be thrown in the depths of the sea,” etc. Just’s goe to remind us that, most of the time, God’s judgements on the wicked do not take place in this life—but those judgements WILL take place, and God will settle all accounts.

    David Reimer is at peace now, in a place of light and knowledge, where God’s Truth will be taught him, and where he will have the opportunity to be healed through Christ’s blood. One day, he will rise in the resurrection, whole every whit, a MAN, what he always sought to be and what was denied him for so long, and if he chooses, he may, through the Atonement, become a MAN of Holiness some day. That blessing is offered to “Dr.” Money too—but the clock of life is ticking…

  11. sid
    June 4, 2004 at 9:16 pm

    Amen to that Brother Cooper!!!

  12. Heather Oman
    June 5, 2004 at 5:24 pm

    As a graduate clinician in Speech Language Pathology at the George Washington Univeristy Speech Clinic, I was supposed to treat transsexuals who wanted to have voice and communication therapy to make them more female. In fact, in order to pass the National Certification Examination for Speech Pathologists, you have to know a fair bit of information on voice treatment for this population. I respectfully requested not to work with these patients. They invariably came to the clinic in the evening, on Wednesdays, and although I’m sure they were pleasant enough individuals, the spirit in that waiting room was very, very strange. Not that I necessarily need a strong feeling of the Spirit to do speech therapy, but I knew that I could not successfully treat such a person who had such a dark feeling to them. Ethically, I could not provide such a service. I don’t know where I stand on the whole transsexual/nature vs. nurture debate, but I do know that a waiting room full of transsexuals is not a place where the Spirit dwells. And yes, the literature seems to bear out the conclusion that depression etc does not disappear with reassignment surgery.

  13. June 6, 2004 at 5:54 pm

    The hapless David Reimer and his family became the subject of a book, As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl, by John Colapinto. Personally, I can’t believe that God makes mistakes while assigning genders to any of His children.

  14. Michael Godek
    June 8, 2004 at 12:23 pm

    Dear Russel,

    Thanks for giving the news how it sould be, “RAW”. I remember a couple of weeks ago, when that man was Taped and was never shown on National TV(as far as I know). They said it might insite riots or even help George Bushes cause. Anyways thanks for the story.

  15. June 8, 2004 at 12:53 pm

    This is Michael Godek, my new brother-in-law, right? Welcome to T&S! We’re looking forward to seeing you in Little Rock in a few weeks. (Oh, and my name has two Ls, not one.)

  16. Erin Tarbuck
    June 9, 2004 at 8:54 pm

    The saddest part of this story for me is that the Doctor in question assumed David Reimer’s gender to be tied to the presence or absence of a fully-formed penis. This hearkens back to the arguments of Augustine and Aquinas that women are simply ‘imperfect’ or ‘partially formed’ men……and perhaps, conversely, that ‘imperfect’ or ‘partially formed’ men are actually women? Anybody looking for some low-rent logic real cheap?

    Anyway, the issue gender “reassignment” does bring up all sorts of difficult problems for parents of children who are born “inter-sexed”, or with ambiguous genitals. While the actual sex of the child can always be determined by a blood test, many parents struggle with the decision of how to raise the child. Many comments on this article have stated that it isn’t the place of mere mortals to make such decisions…..however, I’d like to know how many of us would choose to leave things as they were if we had a girl with a penis and scrotum, a boy with a vagina and breasts, or a child with a mixture of the two?

    The CBC has an excellent account of David Remier’s story:


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