When babies are born, it should be a happy time for the new family. There is nothing quite as special as that moment when two people madly in love get to expand their home and share all of that love with new lives of their own making.
However, sometimes what should be a time of pure bliss is marred by misfortune. When a baby suffers an injury or experiences an illness, it can transform what should be a joyous time into one of fear and anxiety.
The Reimer family experienced this firsthand when one of their twin boys suffered a terrible injury during a routine surgery. What took place after the accident, however, would change all of their lives forever…
When identical twin boys Bruce and Brian Reimer were born in Winnipeg, Canada, in 1965, their family was overjoyed. However, it wasn’t long before everything changed. When their mother brought them to the doctor for a routine circumcision, there was a horrible accident that left Bruce’s penis horribly burned and beyond the restorative powers that surgery could allow.
That’s when Bruce’s parents heard about how gender reassignment surgeries were being performed by Dr. John Money—and they thought that had found a solution to Bruce’s problem. Rather than fix his penis, with the help of Dr. Money, they would simply raise Bruce as a girl.
Dr. Money was convinced that gender was a fluid construct and that if Bruce was raised as a girl—and given a few surgical procedures along the way—Bruce would have no problem completely identifying as a woman, even though he had been born male.
Bruce was just 17 months old when he underwent a full castration and female genital reconstructive surgery. The castration meant that Bruce would no longer produce testosterone. Dr. Money told his parents to start calling him Brenda, and to never let him know that he had been a boy.
While becoming Brenda meant Bruce’s identity would totally change, for Dr. Money it was no more than another science experiment for him to observe and report on. In his notes, he wrote: “The girl has several ‘tomboy’ characteristics, plenty of physical energy, a high level of activity and rebellion. She is often the one leading in a group of girls and, despite everything, nobody else knows Brenda is the girl from the case the media is talking about. Her conduct is as normal as any other girl’s, and she differs of the male conduct of her twin brother.”
By the time Brenda was nine years old, Dr. Money considered her sex change procedure a success. However, when Brenda turned 13 and puberty began, things begin to change—and not for the better. Most notably, she struggled in her relationships with other people.
It wasn’t difficult for anyone to see just how Brenda was struggling. Her mother said, “She was very masculine and I couldn’t persuade her to do girly things. Brenda almost didn’t have friends during her childhood. Everyone made fun of her and called her ‘cavewoman.’”
Brenda became a loner. She picked fights with boys and isolated herself from spending time with the girls. Even Dr. Money, who claimed that the case was successful, knew that there were problems with the case. In fact, he had even said so in some of his earliest notes.
When Brenda’s parents confronted Dr. Money with their concerns, he brushed them off, chalking it up to being “a phase.” That was when they lost all confidence in the doctor and decided that the time had come to finally tell the twins the truth: Brenda was actually born as a little boy.
Brenda immediately decided to start going by the name David. He felt like his whole life finally made sense. He started to undergo hormone therapy and, after a settlement was reached with the hospital who botched his circumcision, he was able to have a penis constructed.
David’s life as a man felt right to him, and while he could never have children, he did get married in 1990 and became the proud stepfather to his new bride’s three children. For the first time in as long as he could remember, he felt right in his own skin.
Tragically, David’s story did not have a happy ending. When he and his brother found out that they had been part of a scientific study, it devastated them both. Brian died of a drug overdose, and David, overwhelmed with depression and grief, took his own life in 2004.
The story of what happened to the Reimer twins was a tragic one. Thankfully, it was also instructive to the medical community in that it disproved the success of forced gender reassignment surgery. Because of what they endured, no one will ever have to suffer such a fate again.
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