Monday, March 5, 2012

The Boy Who Was Raised As A Girl - Botched Circumcision

You thought I was finished, didn't you?  I don't think I will ever be finished on this subject until not one boy in the world is forced to undergo this brutal and unnecessary operation.   I want to share with you a story that made me weep, and grind my teeth with fury, and made me want a gun.  It still makes me weep.   I apologise if the print is blurry, it will be from tears. I do urge you to read it, as it isn't a one-off as far as circumcision horror stories go, and the 'accidents' are still happening to this day. One accident is one too many.

In 1965 in Winnipeg, (Canada) a young couple had twin boys whom they named Brian and Bruce.  When the twins were around six or seven months old, their mother took them to the doctor, as they were having trouble urinating.  The twins were diagnosed with phimosis, and then given a referral for circumcision.   This procedure was carried out on Bruce on 27th April, 1966 by a urologist.  For some unknown reason, the urologist used cauterisation to remove the foreskin, and not a scalpel.  Something went radically wrong during the procedure, and most of the baby's penis was burned off.   There was far too much damage to the penis for it to be repaired surgically.   

Not unsurprisingly, baby Brian's operation was cancelled.  His phimosis corrected itself, as is most often the case. 

The newborn twins with proud mother

Baby Bruce's parents, obviously extremely distressed and worried for their child's future, consulted with many doctors, searching for help for their child.  All agreed there was little hope for repair.   Then, the Reimers saw a television program about an American psychologist, and his theories on sex and gender. Dr. John Money of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was developing a reputation as a pioneer in the field of sexual development and  gender identity.  This was based on his work with "intersex" patients.

"Money was a prominent proponent of the 'theory of Gender Neutrality'; that gender identity developed primarily as a result of social learning from early childhood and could be changed with the appropriate behavioural interventions. The Reimers had seen Money being interviewed on the Canadian news program "This Hour Has Seven Days", where he discussed his theories about gender. He and other physicians working with young children born with abnormal genitalia believed that a penis could not be replaced but that a functional vagina could be constructed surgically, and that he would be more likely to achieve successful, functional sexual maturation as a girl than as a boy." (From Wikipedia)

Bruce's parents were convinced by Money and others that this was the best hope for their son, and thus when Bruce was 22 months old, an "orchidectomy" (surgery to remove a testicle/testicles and the full spermatic cord, through an incision in the abdomen. Orchidectomy is one form of castration) was performed on the little boy.  Bruce was then  renamed 'Brenda', and was to be raised as a girl.  John Money must have been ecstatic at this 'gender reassignment' - he had just been handed the perfect control couple in Bruce and his twin Brian.

"What remained of his penis was left, not to interfere with his urinary tract. When Bruce was released from hospital, his parents were told to raise him as a girl. The family was told not to divulge anything to anyone. They went home with a girl they called Brenda.
"We relatively quickly came to accept that," Janet Reimer told CBC News in 1997. "He was a beautiful little girl."   (From CBC News Indepth)

"This reassignment was considered an especially valid test case of the social learning concept of gender identity for two reasons. First, Reimer's twin brother, Brian, made an ideal control since the two not only shared genes and family environments but had shared the intrauterine environment as well. Second, this was reputed to be the first reassignment and reconstruction performed on a male infant who had no abnormality of prenatal or early postnatal sexual differentiation."   (From Wikipedia)

Over the course of the next 10 years Money provided "psychological support" and saw 'Brenda' annually to assess the outcome of his case.

For some years, Money reported on Reimer's progress, referring to him as the  "John/Joan case". He reported successful female gender development, and he used Bruce's case as  support for the feasibility of sexual reassignment and surgical reconstruction -  even in non-intersex cases. He  reported -  "The child's behaviour is so clearly that of an active little girl and so different from the boyish ways of her twin brother."   He stated that the twins were happy in their assigned roles. Brian a rough and tumble boy, his sister Brenda a happy little girl. Money was featured in Time magazine and included a chapter on the twins in his famous textbook Man & Woman, Boy & Girl

However, in notes by a former student at Money's laboratory, it states that during the follow-up visits, which occurred only once a year, Reimer's parents routinely lied to lab staff about the success of the experiment.

From the first, 'Brenda' refused and was confused by her so-called gender, and was bullied and relentlessly teased at school for her masculine walk, behaviour and tastes and was called names such as 'it',  'freak', and 'caveman'.   At the age of only 2, 'Brenda' angrily tore off her dresses. She refused to play with dolls, she would beat up her brother, and take his toy cars and guns. She complained to both her parents and her teachers that she felt like a boy.  Because of Dr. Money's strict orders of secrecy, her parents insisted that she was only going through a phase. Meanwhile, 'Brenda's' guilt-ridden mother attempted suicide, and  her father descended  into alcoholism. Neglected, 'Brenda' eventually descended into drug use, pretty crime, and clinical depression. 

'Brenda's' visits to Money in Baltimore were a traumatic experience, rather than supportive, and when Money began pressuring the family to bring 'Brenda'  for follow-up surgery, during which a vagina would be constructed, the family discontinued the visits. By the age of 13, 'Brenda' had suicidal depression, and told his parents he would commit suicide if they made him see John Money again.   

From Wikipedia: Dr. Money forced the twins to rehearse sexual acts involving "thrusting movements" with (Brenda) playing the bottom role. As a child, Reimer painfully recalled having to get "down on all fours" with his brother, Brian Reimer, "up behind his butt" with "his crotch against" his "buttocks". In another sexual position, Dr. Money forced Reimer to have his "legs spread" with Brian on top. Dr. Money also forced the children to take their "clothes off" and engage in "genital inspections". On at "least one occasion", Dr. Money took a "photograph" of the two children doing these activities. Dr. Money's rationale for these various treatments was his belief that "childhood 'sexual rehearsal play'" was important for a "healthy adult gender identity".

From the age of 22 months through to his teenage years 'Brenda'  urinated through a hole surgeons had placed in the abdomen.  She was given oestrogen during adolescence, in order to induce breast development. Having no contact with the family once the visits were discontinued, John Money published nothing further about the case to suggest that the reassignment had not been successful.

When 'Brenda'  was 13, (the age varies according to the source) his parents finally told him the truth about his gender reassignment, following advice from Reimer's endocrinologist and psychiatrist.  At 14, Reimer decided to assume a male gender identity, calling himself David.

"Bruce Reimer said he had one thought at the time: to go to the hospital and track down and shoot the doctor who had botched his circumcision. In the end, he was unable to exact his revenge, but turned his anger on himself. "   (From CBC News Indepth)

Bruce attempted suicide three times. The third, which was an overdose of tablets, left him in a coma. When he recovered, he started on the long road to a normal life as a man.  By 1997, Reimer had undergone treatment to reverse the reassignment, including testosterone injections, a double mastectomy, and two phalloplasty (penis reconstruction) operations. 

"David soon embarked on the painful process of converting back to his biological sex. A double mastectomy removed the breasts that had grown as a result of oestrogen therapy; multiple operations, involving grafts and plastic prosthesis, created an artificial penis and testicles. Regular testosterone injections masculinized his musculature. Yet David was depressed over what he believed was the impossibility of his ever marrying. " (From "Slate")

He married Jane Fontaine and became a stepfather to her three children. 

"When David was almost 30, he met Dr. Milton Diamond, a psychologist at the University of Hawaii and a long-time rival of Dr. Money. A biologist by training, Diamond had always been curious about the fate of the famous twin, especially after Money mysteriously stopped publishing follow-ups in the late 1970s. Through Diamond, David learned that the supposed success of his sex reassignment had been used to legitimize the widespread use of infant sex change in cases of hermaphroditism and genital injury. Outraged, David agreed to participate in a follow-up by Dr. Diamond, whose myth-shattering paper (co-authored by Dr. Keith Sigmundson) was published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in March 1997 and was featured on front pages across the globe."  (From Slate)

Soon after this, David went public with his story.  John Colapinto, in December 1997's "Rolling Stone" magazine, published a widely broadcast and influential account.  David Reimer and John Colapinto then elaborated on David's story, in the book " As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl".

David's story came to a tragic end in 2004, on 5th May, when he shot himself.  Nobody really seems to know the exact reasons for his suicide, but his brother had committed suicide two years previously, (Brian had schizophrenia), David had become unemployed, he had lost a great deal of money through bad investments, and his wife had asked for a separation. His life as a man was far from peaceful and placid, David had numerous fears, cycles of depression and an explosive temper. 

David Reimer

The Intersex Society of North America, which opposes involuntary sex reassignment, treats the story of David Peter Reimer as a cautionary tale about why the genitals of unconsenting minors should not be needlessly modified. (Wikipedia)

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