The story of David Reimer (born Bruce Reimer) begins in Winnipeg, Canada in 1965. Bruce and Brian Reimer were twin boys born to Janet Reimer. When Janet brought the boys to a doctor because they were experiencing problems urinating, the doctor suggested they be circumcised.
The doctor’s performing the procedure chose a rather unconventional path that required burning off the foreskin of the penis instead of cutting it like a traditional circumcision. The procedure took a turn for the worst when one of the doctors burned Bruce’s penis so severely that it could not be repaired and was practically nonexistent.
The Reimers consulted numerous physicians following the botched procedure. None of the doctors could provide them with any help on what to do. They informed Bruce’s parents that he would have to live with “nonexistent” genitals.
The family found hope one night while watching a TV interview with Dr. John Money of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Money was explaining his theories on gender, stating that a boy may be raised as a girl if the process begins at a young age because he believed that gender is affected by nurture instead of nature. Janet Reimer became interested in the theory and decided that it would be their best option to travel to Baltimore and consult Dr. Money. Sure enough, Dr. Money found Bruce Reimer to be a perfect candidate.
At 21 months old, Bruce Reimer’s testicles were removed almost entirely, only leaving the small bit of what was left of his penis so it would not interfere with his urinary track. When Bruce was sent home, the Reimers were told to treat him as a female without ever indicating that he was born male. That is when Bruce Reimer became Brenda. Janet showered Bruce with dresses, jewelry, skirts, and makeup. But he was anything but feminine. He still acted just like the other boys at school, often getting into fistfights on the playground. She was called things like “caveman” or “it” by schoolmates
By the time Bruce was nine, the family was having doubts about Money’s experiment. Although he claimed it was a success, Bruce’s twin brother Brian begged to differ. He said that she was exactly like him in every way, except with longer hair. Shortly after that when Bruce hit puberty, it was crystal clear that Money’s experiment was a failure. He grew thick, broad shoulders and a thick neck. It was at this stage when the Reimers were left with their biggest decision yet: whether or not they’d allow surgeons to reconstruct what was left of Bruce’s male genitals into a vagina so he could live as Brenda.
Bruce refused, threatening to commit suicide if they made him go through with the surgery. Bruce’s father broke down and told him everything about the botched circumcision, leaving him completely angered. So upset by the news, Bruce attempted suicide three times over the following years. His third attempt, a drug overdose, left him in a coma. After recovery, Bruce left his identity as Brenda behind. He cut his hair, wore men’s clothes, and changed his name to David.
David eventually underwent four reconstructive surgeries to physically make him a man again. He would be able to have a normal sex life, but would not be able to have children. For years, Reimer only told his story in anonymity. This changed when 2000 came along and American author John Colapinto wrote As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. David finally agreed to publicly talk about his story to help other children facing the same fate.
Four years later in 2004, David’s life took a drastic turn when he lost his job and separated from his wife. He was also still severely grieving from the death of his twin brother in 2002.
David Reimer committed suicide on May 4, 2004 at the age of 38.