The Boy Who Was Turned Into a Girl

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In 1965 in the Canadian town of Winnipeg, Janet Reimer gave birth to twin boys – Bruce and Brian. Six months later a bungled circumcision left Bruce without a penis. Based on a radical new theory of gender development the decision was taken to raise Bruce as a girl. In 1967 Bruce became Brenda and for the next three decades this case would be at the heart of one of the most controversial theories in the history of science.

The man behind this work was world-renowned psychologist Dr John Money. In the 1950s Dr Money developed a theory that revolutionised our understanding of gender. Money believed that what he called our ‘gender identity’ – what makes us think, feel and behave as boys or girls – is not fully formed by the time of birth. While we may have some innate sense of being a boy or a girl, for up to two years after birth, our brains are, in effect, malleable and we can be taught to grow up as either a boy or girl by how we are raised – by the toys we are given, the guidance we receive from adults and the clothes we are given to wear. This became known as the ‘theory of gender neutrality’.

Dr Money had reached this conclusion by working with a rare group of individuals born with ambiguous genitals – people known as intersexuals or hermaphrodites. Dr Money studied groups of intersex children, and concluded that these children could be brought up as either boys or girls regardless of their genetic or physical sex. The legacy of Dr Money’s work was a revolution in the treatment of ‘intersex’. From the 1950s to the present day many intersex children born with a tiny penis are reassigned as female even if they are actually genetically male.

But not everyone agreed with Dr Money’s theories. Since the 1950s a small group of scientists including Dr Milton Diamond have questioned John Money’s work. Diamond believed that our sex is already defined in our brains before we are born. He was convinced that the power of our genes and hormones was so strong that no amount of nurturing could override them.

But John Money’s theory had already become firmly accepted around the world and the most dramatic confirmation of the theory came from one particular case – the case of Bruce Reimer.

Bruce was a normal boy, not an intersex child, and yet the decision was made to turn this boy who had lost his penis, into a girl. Under the guidance of Dr Money and his team at Johns Hopkins University this baby boy was surgically changed into a girl. After surgeons at Hopkins had castrated baby Bruce, he became baby Brenda. The family were instructed how to bring up Brenda as a normal little girl. According to Dr Money’s theory she would grow up believing herself to be female and would go on to live a normal happy life as a woman. It seemed the ultimate test that nurture could override nature.

Thirty years after Bruce became Brenda, the impact of this extraordinary story continues. After almost 14 years living as a female, Brenda Reimer reverted to her true biological sex – the case of the boy who was turned into a girl had failed. Brenda took the name David and for the last twenty years he has lived anonymously in his hometown of Winnipeg. For almost all this time no one knew the outcome of John Money’s celebrated case. But now that David has gone public, the case is being widely discussed once again and its impact on John Money’s theory of gender development and the treatment of intersex children is being hotly debated.

The Boy Who Was Turned Into a Girl, 8.0 out of 10 based on 25 ratings

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=668151366 Jules Cutler

    I read the book on this! It was fascinating! Look for it:

    “As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl”

  • None

    Winnipeg has been a city since 19th centuty, not a “town.” When you can’t get such a simple fact right it casts a poor light on the entire thing.

    • nick

      wow i didnt relise there was Head up their ass perfectionists on this site. Heres an idea Go get a job and stop complaining about small lil things like that phallus on your head None.

  • None

    Winnipeg has been a city since 19th centuty, not a “town.” When you can’t get such a simple fact right it casts a poor light on the entire thing.

  • None

    Winnipeg has been a city since 19th centuty, not a “town.” When you can’t get such a simple fact right it casts a poor light on the entire thing.

  • echo

    Sad epilogue: Both David and his twin brother committed suicide.

    There is another good documentary in the “related docos” thingie above, “Dr Money and the Boy with No Penis”, on this family and their experiences.

  • Brian Kerr

    Any body who circumcises their baby boys are evil pieces of total garbage. Unless you think god or nature made a mistake; and if you believe that you are stupid beyond belief.

    • Anonymous

      I agree, but in this documentary it’s stated the foreskin was removed due to a medical condition. In this case it seems that nature did make a mistake. Belief in a god should never decide what you do to others.

      • pocky

        idd it was explained that in this case circumcision was medically needed as the boys couldn’t urinate properly,it wasn’t a circumcision done based on the vanity that it looks good etc. No idea why the hospital decided to go against normal procedure and use a laser, I’d sue them tbh. I think the sadest thing is that they have such a lack of information of what happens to the people after the operation. If more people came forward then they’d probably stop doing it to future people.

        • Chippy

          Lasers…  Doesn’t work like that.

        • Chippy

          Lasers…  Doesn’t work like that.

      • pocky

        idd it was explained that in this case circumcision was medically needed as the boys couldn’t urinate properly,it wasn’t a circumcision done based on the vanity that it looks good etc. No idea why the hospital decided to go against normal procedure and use a laser, I’d sue them tbh. I think the sadest thing is that they have such a lack of information of what happens to the people after the operation. If more people came forward then they’d probably stop doing it to future people.

    • Anonymous

      I agree, but in this documentary it’s stated the foreskin was removed due to a medical condition. In this case it seems that nature did make a mistake. Belief in a god should never decide what you do to others.

  • Brian Kerr

    Any body who circumcises their baby boys are evil pieces of total garbage. Unless you think god or nature made a mistake; and if you believe that you are stupid beyond belief.

  • Gat0

    Winnipeg is a CITY not a town, fix your article please. 
    Check your facts.Trust me I live there! 

  • Ttadukas

    “The Boy Who Was Turned Into A Girl”well, not the first one in our modern worldxD

  • Rossm1983

    My god – how many times could this documentary say the EXACT same thing? I FFW like 6 times and everytime i stop they’re reiterating the theory that our gender identity can be shaped.  Fascinating subject, terrible documentary.

  • Rossm1983

    My god – how many times could this documentary say the EXACT same thing? I FFW like 6 times and everytime i stop they’re reiterating the theory that our gender identity can be shaped.  Fascinating subject, terrible documentary.

  • Diana_jarv12

    Wait, but surely it would have been much easier to transplant to this boy a new male genitalia, then to remove what he was left with, and replace it with a female genitalia? 

  • Diana_jarv12

    Wait, but surely it would have been much easier to transplant to this boy a new male genitalia, then to remove what he was left with, and replace it with a female genitalia? 

  • Diana_jarv12

    What a stupid Doctor. Inter-sex children are way different – if they are born with imbalance of relevant hormones then it means that they have both female and male hormones in them, and therefore they can be easily turned either into a boy or a girl, regardless of the look of their genitalia. However, it is perfectly clear that Bruce was born as a boy, he only had MALE hormones in them, how then they even tried to turn him into a girl? cruel b********

  • Diana_jarv12

    What a stupid Doctor. Inter-sex children are way different – if they are born with imbalance of relevant hormones then it means that they have both female and male hormones in them, and therefore they can be easily turned either into a boy or a girl, regardless of the look of their genitalia. However, it is perfectly clear that Bruce was born as a boy, he only had MALE hormones in them, how then they even tried to turn him into a girl? cruel b********

  • Diana_jarv12

    What a stupid Doctor. Inter-sex children are way different – if they are born with imbalance of relevant hormones then it means that they have both female and male hormones in them, and therefore they can be easily turned either into a boy or a girl, regardless of the look of their genitalia. However, it is perfectly clear that Bruce was born as a boy, he only had MALE hormones in them, how then they even tried to turn him into a girl? cruel b********

  • DocFan

    Surely it would been much easier to just reconstruct another penis?

  • DocFan

    Surely it would been much easier to just reconstruct another penis?

  • DocFan

    Surely it would been much easier to just reconstruct another penis?

  • DocFan

    Surely it would been much easier to just reconstruct another penis?

  • DocFan

    Surely it would been much easier to just reconstruct another penis?

  • Qmark21

    Disturbing!

  • Boolanoola101

    As others have said, this is fascinating material but a repetitive and dumbed down account of the events. It hurt my brain to watch the whole thing…towards the end I kept skipping forward in increments to see if they were saying anything new. They weren’t.

  • Boolanoola101

    As others have said, this is fascinating material but a repetitive and dumbed down account of the events. It hurt my brain to watch the whole thing…towards the end I kept skipping forward in increments to see if they were saying anything new. They weren’t.

  • Boolanoola101

    As others have said, this is fascinating material but a repetitive and dumbed down account of the events. It hurt my brain to watch the whole thing…towards the end I kept skipping forward in increments to see if they were saying anything new. They weren’t.

  • Boolanoola101

    As others have said, this is fascinating material but a repetitive and dumbed down account of the events. It hurt my brain to watch the whole thing…towards the end I kept skipping forward in increments to see if they were saying anything new. They weren’t.

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  • maikaimo

    So it’s been commonly accepted that one can switch around genders purely based on upbrining?  Have I been living under a rock?

    • judyk

      it HAD been in the past… but as this docu shows, that wasnt correct – or did you just type stuff without watching it