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The social construct of gender is something we can blame on the infamous Dr. John Money. Until he coined the term in 1955, the word “gender” was overwhelmingly only used in grammar. In the 1970s, Dr. Money’s definition of gender became much more widespread, all thanks to the misrepresented findings of his “John/Joan Study.”
Dr. Money had a lot of issues from a deeply dysfunctional childhood, and these obsessions, dysfunctions, and bizarre ideas found their way into his adult work as a sexologist and psychologist. He began his research career by studying hermaphrodites (the then-correct term for intersexed people). In 1967, he struck gold for testing his theories about gender identity, at a trusting family’s expense.
In April 1966, 8-month-old Bruce Reimer lost his entire penis (bar a little vestigial stump of tissue) due to a botched circumcision. Instead of using a knife like normal, the surgeon decided to use an electrical needle. The organ was severely burnt and left hard as a rock. The urologist who was called couldn’t even insert a catheter in the urethra, and had to surgically put a tube in through the abdomen into the bladder. Over the next few days, the baby’s penis dried up and broke off in pieces, with the severed urethra like a piece of string.
Bruce’s parents didn’t know what to do until they saw Dr. Money on television, with a transsexual whose sex change operation he’d performed. They were mesmerized at what could be done, and immediately contacted Dr. Money. Bruce received an orchiectomy (castration) and a rudimentary vaginoplasty at 22 months, was renamed Brenda, and began to be raised as a girl.
Dr. Money loved this case because Brenda had an identical twin, Brian. This was the perfect matched pair to test his theories about gender identity and how a normal boy could successfully become a girl, without even suspecting she used to be a he. The experiment not only failed miserably, but Dr. Money violated numerous ethical precepts (and doubtless laws as well). He showed them pornographic pictures, very graphic pictures of women giving birth, and dirty films, made them undress and inspect one another’s genitals, forced them to simulate sex acts on one another as he took pictures, all sorts of pedophilic, beyond-inappropriate behavior. He even got their parents to walk around naked in front of the kids, though they wisely drew the line at having sex in front of their children.
When the truth came out at age 14, Brenda immediately reverted back to her true sex and took the name David, after King David, whose warrior spirit he related to. I must admit, I was kind of thinking of this story when my character Boy Ryan is asked his name by bridal salon owner Mrs. Marsenko, and immediately thinks of David. When asked to explain later, he said it was because King David was a great warrior and got all the women.
Thing is, David always knew he was male, even when he was living as Brenda. Even before he could understand what those feelings meant, he knew something wasn’t right, and that he was different. He wasn’t a natal female who always felt male. He simply returned to his true nature. This went far beyond merely being a very masculine girl. It wasn’t about which interests and behaviors stereotypically lined up with one sex vs. the other, but naturally gravitating towards maleness. Most people in our society tend to conform to gender norms, but this proved you don’t even need to be socialized as that sex to know who you are.
Dr. Money was still touting this study as a success as late as 1997, when the twins found out about it and went public to denounce this vile man and try to save other kids from the same fate. Sadly, they both committed suicide, all in huge part thanks to the trauma caused by Dr. Money. The charlatan himself died of old age and still retains a positive reputation among too many people.
Gender isn’t one and the same as biological sex, even though most people never feel much or any disconnect between the two. I’ve always known I’m female, hated how my parents wouldn’t let me have long hair when I was young, enjoy going to women’s-only events and davening behind a mechitza, love jewelry, the color purple, cute fluffy animals, and painting my nails, frequently wear dresses and skirts, and look forward to someday experiencing pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, covering my hair after marriage, and going to the mikvah.
On the flip side, I also have a lot of interests and behaviors stereotypically associated with men in the modern West, but in some cultures, that would be considered more feminine behavior. There are places where men stay home as nurturing caretakers while women hunt and fight, just as there are places where both sexes take equal part in farming, hunting, fighting, and gathering.
As much as I believe in equality and egalitarianism, there are some things no amount of socialization one way or the other can change. Men tend to be physically stronger and taller than women, with more tendency towards aggression, due to testosterone, while women have more body fat and a calmer, more nurturing nature. Perhaps this is part of our race memories, as Jung theorized, not just because of typical socialization and the effects of hormones.
We’re all made up of different aspects, along a spectrum. No one is 100% masculine or feminine, just as being 100% right- or left-handed tends to be a sign of neurological damage. Even someone as liberal as myself has some conservative views. Sexual orientation exists along a continuum too. Perhaps you only have relationships with men, but feel more emotionally attracted to women. Maybe you’re a man who’s bedded lots of women, but enjoy gay erotica. Your core identity shouldn’t feel insecure, since we ultimately know who we really are, even if society has tried to convince us we have to pretend to be someone else or choose between two boxes.