Content Warning: This post contains discussions of medical and sexual abuse of children. Please read with caution.
Show Me the—
Dr. John Money was a psychologist and researcher at Johns Hopkins. He did a lot of research into gender and sex, both medically and sociologically, and invented a number of terms and ideas we now associate with both. However, his reputation is not, as the saying goes, great. He was involved with a number of experiments in performing gender-related surgeries on infants, the most infamous being the case of David Reimer.
David Reimer, date unknown
Reimer was born in 1965, one of a pair of twin boys. A botched circumcision destroyed his penis as an infant. Money spent decades championing the idea that gender identity is primarily learned. He persuaded Reimer’s parents that it would be better for him to receive further surgeries and be raised as a girl (“Brenda”). They did so. And Money’s involvement didn’t stop there. During subsequent appointments with the twins, he forced them to strip for “genital inspections” (sometimes taking pictures) and to engage in sexual play, claiming that such childhood rehearsals were essential to develop a healthy adult gender identity.1 He trumpeted what he called the “John/Joan” case as proof positive of his theories about gender being more a result of nurture than nature.
Unfortunately for the victims of this disgusting quack, he was wrong. By age eleven, “Brenda” had a strong sense he was not a girl, despite regular estrogen injections and female puberty. Finally, in 1980, the Reimers told “Brenda” the truth. He promptly took on a male identity (including the name David) and began to receive testosterone injections and masculinizing surgeries. No amount of female socialization or hormone replacement therapy had been able to efface his inner sense of who he was.2
When Will My Reflection Show
Now, I expect a lot of anti-trans readers (Catholic or not) will be nodding along sagely to all of this. “You can’t fight nature. You can’t just decide to be a different gender. Try, and it will take a terrible toll, perhaps a deadly one. This is why all this gender ideology stuff is so dangerous.”
But is that really the lesson here? Because if it were that simple, gender transition should produce far greater misery than the dysphoria it’s meant to treat. But that’s not what the evidence shows: on the contrary, transition is the only recognized treatment for adult dysphoria in modern medicine.3 Opponents of “gender ideology” love to cite detransitioners (people who transitioned to another gender and later changed their minds) as evidence that transition is bad and dangerous, but if anything, they prove the opposite.4 Only a tiny percentage of people who’ve transitioned pursue detransition, and of those, an even smaller fraction claim to do so out of regret. Most cite factors like prohibitive medical expenses and family rejection—not a keen inner sense that they were and remain their “old” gender.
The actual experiences of trans people line up far more with David Reimer’s than with the lives of cisgender5 people. They’re usually raised and socialized according to their birth sex; most experience all the normal hormonal changes of puberty. Yet none of this effaces the sense, which they often have from an even earlier age than Reimer, that their gender is not the same as their physical sex. Could any serious person claim that these people’s minds have been changed by a fad? When both nurture and nature have been working to settle them since infancy?
That Joke Isn’t Funny Any More
And what’s even more ridiculous about all this is, we just did this. We spent the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s trying out the whole ex-gay narrative. And in 2013, the largest ex-gay organization in the world shut its doors and its leader issued a public apology for the harm he’d done.
Does it follow that transgender issues are just like homosexuality? No. But can we at least not rush to make all the same assumptions—that being trans is a psychological disorder, that it’s the parents’ fault for not nurturing the child right, that it’s curable with the right therapy, that people are “doing it for attention”—that just gave us such a colossal series of embarrassing disasters? Can we please stop for five damn minutes and actually look at the research that’s been done about this, instead of pretending we must have the answers already because the Church is infallible?
It’s no insult to the Church to suggest that she hasn’t yet answered a question that simply hadn’t been raised before. And it’s no compliment to suppose that she is incapable of handling new questions. The modern concept of being transgender has antecedents in cultures all over the world, yes. But as far as I can tell, it hasn’t been posed in exactly this form before, or with the same scientific resources to help answer it we have today.
Worse still, we’re not even done with Money. Because he didn’t start his career of experimenting on the bodies of helpless infants in 1965. His career goes further back, and gets into the “correction” of the bodies of intersex people.
And what’s intersexuality? I am, both sarcastically and sincerely, glad you asked.
1I expect it will come as no surprise to anyone that, while allowing that it could be “sadistic,” Dr. Money considered “affectional” pedophilia to be perfectly healthy as well.
2Reimer’s life, I am sorry to say, remained tragic. He continued to struggle with mental problems throughout his life, as did his brother, who died of an overdose in 2002. In 2004, at age 38, Reimer took his own life. The twins’ parents consider Dr. Money responsible for both deaths; he himself died in 2006.
3I specify “adult” here, because gender dysphoria in children does seem to weaken or fade completely at puberty in some cases. However, the research on this is still—no pun intended—in its infancy. It is also true that some adults choose to manage dysphoria, rather than treating it through transition; this doesn’t change the fact that managing a condition isn’t the same as treating it.
4More realistically, they prove neither: studies of detransition are few as yet, and many have small sample sizes that limit their usefulness.
5Cisgender means “a person who identifies with the gender of their birth sex.”