Dr. John William Money, a sex researcher and the co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic, died on July 7 from complications related to Parkinson’s disease. He was 84.
Born in Morrinsville, New Zealand, Money studied psychology at Victoria University of Wellington and at the University of Pittsburgh. He earned his doctorate at Harvard University after writing a thesis paper on hermaphroditism.
Money was the first pediatric psychoendocrinologist at Johns Hopkins University. He designed the school’s curriculum in sexual medicine and served as a professor of medical psychology and pediatrics for 50 years. In the mid-1960s, Money co-founded the Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic with Reed Erickson, a wealthy philanthropist and female-to-male transsexual, and performed one of the first sex reassignment surgeries in the United States.
Money soon gained a reputation as an expert in the sex reassignment field, and was frequently called to testify in court that such surgery was appropriate therapy for people suffering from gender identity disorder. Also known as transsexualism, GID is a psychological condition where a person experiences “strong, persistent feelings of identification with the opposite gender and discomfort with one’s own assigned sex.”
Money believed that gender identity was determined by environment and upbringing as well as biology, and thus could be changed in the first few years of a person’s life. He promoted genital surgery to make intersex infants look more “normal” and social conditioning to alter their gender belief systems. Money put these theories to the test on David Reimer, a Canadian boy who suffered from a botched circumcision operation when he was 8 months old. Money persuaded Reimer’s parents to turn him into a girl, and so David underwent a radical sex-change procedure. He was given female hormones and psychologically trained into believing he was a girl named Brenda.
The experiment was widely considered a success in medical circles. Money published several journal articles about the case, as well as the book, “Man and Woman, Boy and Girl” with Anke Ehrhardt. However, Reimer suffered greatly as the guinea pig in Money’s research project. He was teased by classmates, confused by his gender identity and clinically depressed for many years. After learning the truth of his past, Reimer underwent surgery and testosterone therapy. He changed his name to David and returned to living as a man.
Reimer’s life story served as the basis of John Colapinto’s 2000 book, “As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl.” He appeared on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and in several documentaries in order to save other children from a similar fate. In 2004, Reimer committed suicide at the age of 38.
Despite criticism from the media, psychologists, scholars and other members of the medical community about the Reimer case, Money refused to alter his gender identity theories. “I don’t mind being wrong a few times because I’m right most of the time,” Money said.
The controversial researcher also theorized about the origins of sexual orientation (which he believed were formed by both biological and environmental factors), and on the nature of attraction (what he called “love maps”). In his testimony before Attorney General Edwin Meese’s pornography commission in 1985, Money stated that sexually explicit photographs and films were not detrimental to minors. That same year, he received the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award for the Applications of Psychology.
In 2002, Money entrusted his personal collection of papers and published works to the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, and established the John Money Sexology Scholars Library Fund to help pay for the preservation of archives and collections from the sexological community.