WINNIPEG SUN, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Monday, 10 May 2004.

Sad end to boy/girl life

Subject of gender experiment


A Winnipeg man who was born a boy but raised as a girl in a famous nurture-versus-nature experiment has died at the age of 38. David Reimer, who shared his story in the pages of a book and on the TV show Oprah, took his own life last Tuesday.

His mother, Janet Reimer, said she believes her son would still be here today had it not been for the devastating gender study that led to much emotional hardship.

"He managed to have so much courage," Janet told The Sun yesterday. "I think he felt he had no options. It just kept building up and building up."

After a botched circumcision as a toddler, David became the subject of an experiment dubbed the John/Joan case in the '60s and '70s.

Janet said she still harbours anger toward a Baltimore doctor who convinced her and her husband, Ron, to give female hormones to their son and raise him as a daughter, Brenda. Kids were cruel to Brenda growing up in Winnipeg.

"They wouldn't let him use the boys' washroom or the girls. He had to go in the back alley," Janet recalled.


This gender transformation was widely reported as a success and proof that children are not by nature feminine or masculine but through nurture are socialized to become girls or boys. David's identical twin brother, Brian, offered researchers a matched control subject.

But when David discovered the truth about his past during his teenage years, he rebelled and resumed his male identity, eventually marrying and becoming a stepfather to three children.

In 2000, author John Colapinto wrote As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl, providing David an opportunity to tell the real story. It was difficult but David wanted to save other children from a similar fate, his mother said.


While he had spoken anonymously in the past, David was launched into a media swirl after Colapinto's book was published, starting with an appearance on Oprah in February 2000.

"I thought the Reimers were just the most dignified, fantastic people on that program," Colapinto told The Sun at the time.

"I think in a way these wonderful working-class people from Winnipeg just kind of stepped onto the world stage on Oprah and were a lesson to us all in dignity and survival and openness and courage."

David recently slumped into a depression after losing his job and separating from his wife.

He was also still grieving the death of his twin brother two years earlier, their mother said. A cause of death was never confirmed but Janet suspects it might have been an overdose of medication which Brian required to treat schizophrenia.

Daily, David would visit his brother's grave, placing fresh flowers and pulling weeds to keep it tidy.

Just last week, David told his parents that things would get better soon but they never imagined he was planning to commit suicide.

Janet said she'll remember her son as "the most generous, loving soul that ever lived."

"He liked music. He liked jokes. He was a very funny guy," said Janet, who spent Mother's Day grieving the loss of her son. "He was so generous. He gave all he had."

The funeral is today at 2 p.m. at Klassen Funeral Chapel.

(File created 10 May 2004)