David Reimer, the unwitting subject of a controversial gender experiment, committed suicide on May 4. He was 38.
Reimer was born a boy named Bruce. When he was eight months old, a botched circumcision operation severely injured his genitals. Psychologist Dr. John Money of Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore persuaded Reimer’s parents to turn him into a girl. They agreed to submit their son to a radical sex-change procedure, give him female hormones and psychologically condition him into believing he was their daughter.
In 1967, Bruce became Brenda.
Known as the John/Joan case, Reimer’s sexual reassignment was carefully watched by those in medical circles. The experiment was widely considered a success, and served as proof to the theory that children were not by nature feminine or masculine, but socialized into their genders.
Reimer’s life in Winnipeg, Canada, however, did not reflect this theory. Classmates taunted him for how he walked, and refused to allow him access to school bathrooms. He didn’t like dresses and had no sexual interest in boys. Inside, he felt conflicted about his gender identity. Then, when he was 14, Reimer learned the truth about his past. After undergoing surgery and testosterone therapy, he changed his name to David and returned to a male identity.
Reimer later married and became the stepfather of three children. He shared his story with journalist John Colapinto in the 2000 book, “As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl,” and appeared on the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” in order to save other children from a similar fate. His story was also the subject of the 2001 PBS documentary, “Sex: Unknown.”
In recent years, Reimer suffered from depression following a series of personal and professional setbacks. His twin brother died. He lost his job, and he separated from his wife. But Reimer told his parents that things would get better soon.