The case of David Reimer: one of the most scandalous cases in the history of Psychology.
Who was David Reimer? In today’s article, we are going to recall one of the most terrible cases in the history of Psychology. In a brief discussion with several professionals, on the question of what was the most ruthless psychological experiment they have ever known, most brought up the case of David Reimer.
David Reimer: a marked childhood
David Reimer was born in 1965 in Winnipeg, Canada, being the monozygotic twin brother of another baby named Brian. In the northern United States and Canada, circumcision is common, and David and Brian’s parents decided, on the recommendation of their doctor, to have the suckers operated on.
So far everything was normal, but during the operation of David Reimer the surgeon in charge could not be present and the assistant had to perform circumcision. Inexplicably, there was a failure with the electric cauterizer, which caused David’s penis to be completely burned. Later the penis went into necrosis, and a few days later, it was detached from the body.
Possible solution: transsexual David Reimer
The development of genital reconstruction surgery was at a very early stage, which augured few options for little David. However, David’s parents noticed the existence of a Baltimore doctor whose theory defended the nonexistence of innate sexuality, and that therefore it was possible to change a child’s sexuality through development. John Money was a reputable sexologist whose idea of the superiority of environmental over biological influence had earned him some recognition within environmental psychology circles. Money was convinced that education determined the behavior of the subjects.
When David’s parents decided to ask Money for advice, he saw a good opportunity in the case, since he would have a subject to analyze and experiment, David, and another control subject, Brian, with whom to compare the differences that arose according to the education received, as it is clear that at the genetic level David and Brian were practically symmetrical.
Money advised the Reimer family that David should undergo an operation to reconstruct an artificial vagina., and once the operation was finished, David had to receive an education according to his new gender: that is, the education that a girl would receive. From now on, David was called Brenda. Thus, the precepts that parents had to comply with were simple: it was enough to treat Brenda in the same way as if she were a child, and not to mention under any circumstances the subject of her artificial sexuality.
The evidence casts doubt on the doctor’s theory
So the family began to carry out the plan. Nevertheless, Brenda hated girl toys such as dolls and used to rip their dresses off. The parents’ fear that Brenda would one day realize her true sexuality was growing, but the problems were only beginning. As Brenda continued to grow, the hormonal effects began to show, despite her estrogen treatment.
Thus, she began to develop less feminine muscles and statures. According to his brother Brian, the only feature that differentiated Brenda from him was her long hair, and based on the children’s unconsciousness, one can imagine the cruelty with which Brenda had to be treated during her school years.
Frequently, the brothers went to John Money’s office for him to evaluate the development of the children. According to both brothers, Dr. Money’s therapy had disturbing consequences for them. In his biography, David Reimer narrates how the doctor showed them sexual photographs, which, according to Money, were necessary to redirect their sexuality.
One of the most shocking scenes of the Money therapies, according to David, is that the doctor forced them to take off their clothes against the will of the little ones, and forced Brenda to get on all fours while her brother Brian performed pseudo-sexual movements and strokes against his sister’s rear, in a scene they called “sex rehearsal.” Brian could never get over those years. However, the doctor always denied these practices.
Suffering in adolescence
Brenda grew up and her life progressively deteriorated. He refused to undergo further operations and his suicide attempts were becoming serious. Gradually, Dr. Money was moving away from the family, and it was at that moment that Brenda’s father decided to explain the whole truth of his story to him.
After hearing the story, Brenda changed sex again, being an official man again. David married years later, but in a short time, his story came to light, losing his job and his wife. A few years later, his brother Brian reportedly committed suicide out of deep guilt that he had come through the circumcision operation well, and because of years of frustration at seeing his brother’s suffering.
Money’s investigation was exalted at the time because according to his followers, The case of Brenda Reimer was the empirical demonstration that sociocultural conditioning factors determined the sexuality of the subject. It was a partial triumph of the environmentalist branch of psychology since it was confirmed that certain behaviors of Brenda were effectively modulated by the education received, and the genes could little counteract this learned conditioning, although some attitudes and later statements by David qualified this question.
A tragic story
Despite the progress made by the investigation, the human consequences of it were catastrophic. David Reimer had an unhappy life. His life was given to an investigator who altered his agency for selfish gain. If something can be made clear from the story, it is that determinisms must always be questionable. We are the result of a cluster of combinations, circumstances, and coincidences that end up shaping our way of being, and this way of being should never be a scenario where outsiders can manipulate for the sake of science that, in this case, despised life. human.
David Reimer, finally, ended his life on May 4, 2004, when he was only 38 years old.