In the 1970s, an experiment called the John/Joan Case took the world of gender psychology by storm. Eight-month-old Canadian twins Bruce and Brian Reimer had been taken in for routine circumcisions, but things went terribly wrong. Bruce had gone first, and there had been an accident; the doctor had essentially destroyed his penis with a cauterizing instrument.
Left with disfigured genitalia, the solution was for Bruce to become part of a gender reassignment experiment – nature versus nurture. He underwent surgical procedures to reassign his gender, and his parents renamed him Brenda. He would not find out about his true identity for the first 14 years of his life.
The study was later found to be extremely unethical, although at the time it was seen as breakthrough research. Left with deep emotional wounds, the rest of his life was a rollercoaster of ups and downs. In a 2000 interview, he said, "You can never escape the past... I had parts of my body cut away and thrown in a wastepaper basket. I've had my mind ripped away."
He may have endured a painful life both physically and mentally, but David Reimer gave the world valuable insight when it comes to the nature of gender identity and identification.