Eight years ago today, on May 5, 2004, David Reimer took his own life. Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a twin son of working class Canadian parents, David became famous as the subject of John Colapinto’s book, As Nature Made Him—the story of a boy forced to live as a girl until, upon finding out the truth about his history, he heroically emerged as… well, as himself.
John Colapinto’s book about David is a must-read for anybody interested in gender, identity, the runaway abuses of the medical and research establishment, and the boundlessness of the human spirit. The event that shaped the Reimer family’s life was a botched circumcision that caused David to lose his penis. But this story is not exactly about circumcision. Rather, it is about the abuse of power, about malevolence masquerading as rationality, and about the failed theory that “nurture” (whether through the shaping of children’s genitals or the denial of gender identity itself) can overcome nature. It is also about the power of self, and about how the truth will always emerge—sometimes too late, and helpless to stave off the tragic consequences of lies, hypocrisy and adults’ self-serving secrecy invoked as a front for “privacy.”
David Reimer told Colapinto that his parents felt horribly guilty about his life. Of course. But Ron and Janet Reimer were victims, too. Victims of the doctor who convinced them that their boys needed to be circumcised (David went first, but after the machine burned off his penis, the necessity for circumcising Brian suddenly evaporated). Victims of Johns Hopkins psychologist and researcher John Money (who not only abused both twins in the name of “therapy” and “research,” but lied for the rest of his life to the scientific establishment and the public about the results of his “natural experiment”). Victims of their own passivity and lack of knowledge. Victims of their desperate desire to make things right, as their family’s life was shattered, and then re-shattered over the years—Brian also killed himself, years before David’s death.
Let us remember David Reimer for the lessons that his life—and death—can teach us.
I recall when I first heard about David’s death. I could not believe it at first. I knew he was still dealing with his misfortune, but I thought he had made some strides. For instance, he had begun working to protect others from similar harm. David and I exchanged a few emails the year before his death, but I can’t say I knew him well except through Colapinto’s book. Who knows how much he could have achieved by now?
On a side note, how is it that Johns Hopkins keeps being mentioned whenever circumcision atrocities are brought to light, like their questionable African circumcision studies.
It has always baffled me that the sole given moral of Reimer’s story is a repudiation of the behavioral interventions he received while growing up, rather than a criticism of the unnecessary circumcision which led to both the loss of his penis AND the subsequent treatments.
Hubris on top of hubris on top of hubris … you would think that something was learned by this story, but Johns Hopkins keep the tradition going.
“Informed consent” by parents is still not a reality when it comes to circumcision. Countless well-meaning parents are victims of a medical establishment that refuses to tell parents the truth about the harms of circumcision. All the parents hear is “it’s your choice” and never “here is what your son will lose if you authorize this unnecessary procedure.”
The Johns Hopkins medical group has achieved enough status over the years to give them a God-like, “I can get away with anything” attitude. People hear the name Johns Hopkins and automatically believe that whatever comes out of there must be the truth. We must keep bringing their failings to the mainstream.
I remember watching a 60 Minutes segement on David many years ago, before he took his own life. My parents made comments about how terrible this was, and yet I don’t think they even realised that they put me through this risk uneccessarily. I am thankful to David for speaking out.
Reblogged this on Circumcision Doctors Australia and commented:
David was featured on Australian 60 Minutes many years ago, before he tragically took his own life. This is one the initial things that got me thinking about my own circumcision, and how damaging it is.
I hear that Colapinto went and had his own son cut to “prevent urinary tract infections.” This was after he wrote the book. If anyone knows different, please post here and correct me.
Thank you, Georganne, for remembering and honoring the twin boys, David and Brian Reimer, and their parents on the anniversary of David’s death. David lived a life of great torment and sadness. We hoped he had found peace after courageously telling his story and reclaiming himself, but alas, he didn’t. I argued with John Money for years about his ill-conceived agenda to “nurture” over “nature,” as if a “boy-turned girl” didn’t have a “Y” chromosome. You cannot undermine nature or a child’s inherent gender by wishful thinking or “corrective” therapies or surgeries. Dr. Milton Diamond spoke at our 7th International Symposium at Georgetown University. He’s the person who challenged the “nurture vs nature” theory for years and finally exposed the truth about the results of the experiment that failed miserably and destroyed the lives of those in the Reimer family who were all iatrogenic victims of medical hubris. Following a botched circumcision, which was not necessary in the first place, the doctors added incredible insult to injury. Let us hope that David Reimer serves as an example to never do this to anyone again!
Thanks, Marilyn. To my perspective, John Money, with the support of Johns Hopkins, added injury to injury. The insult was the initial (mistaken) belief that boys have no human rights when it comes to their penis and reproductive system.
If anybody should get a “do over” for life it should be David. I hope the doctors that did this to him are tormented by their actions and will never do it to anybody else.
Thank you, Georganne.
Johns Hopkins needs to be called out, not just for its involvement with David Reimer, but also as to its continued support of infant mutilation.
I read that book after Georganne told me about it. It’s a vert teeth-gnashing saga and very tragic for David Reimer.
To Rewrite Lady: I like how you think. I think the correct word, though, is “manufactured consent”. In other words, manufactured lies (that provide a benefit or gain to the perpetrator of the lies) that are then disseminated to unwitting parents by so called “experts”. The parents then believe they have made an informed decision. Since it came from a reputable source, and because the lie is so profound, it has to be true. I forgot who said this, but a historical figure was quoted as saying that the bigger the lie the more believable it is. can anyone recall from their history books who said that?
Everyone in this family was a victim. The twins as well as the parents. I know this is story that will “interest” people for years to come bad the sad truth is that this family’s tragedy is not a joke or anything to laugh at. This is a very sad and sicking that this happened. RIP