He had a name like a James Bond villain¯ Money , Dr. Money ¯and he lived his life as though he were one of those villains, as well: With the mad conviction that he had come like Prometheus to deliver fire, with the crazed confidence that his genius raised him above the quotidian norms of professional behavior, and with the insane certainty that all the little people, his patients, were clay for him to mold as he would.

John Money, the psychologist and self-proclaimed founder at Johns Hopkins University Hospital of the surgical and psychiatric discipline of "sexology," died on July 7, 2006, at the age of eighty-four. As his obituaries noted , he had reached his apogee in the 1970s¯featured in fawning news stories across the county as he proclaimed that "gender identity" was merely "gender role," and thus, through proper surgery and medication, little boys could be changed without psychological damage into little girls.

The most famous of his failures is the case of little Bruce Reimer, a Canadian boy damaged by a botched circumcision. His worried parents delivered the toddler to Dr. Money¯who promptly had him castrated and ordered that he be brought up as "Brenda," declaring that the lives of the new-made girl and his undamaged twin brother would prove that gender could be altered at will. (The sad tale of the child’s subsequent life is recounted in John Colapinto’s 2000 book, As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl . The boy later committed suicide on May 5, 2004.)

But, in fact, Money had many failures, and his star had been dimming for some time. In the November 2004 issue of First Things , Paul McHugh tells of the psychiatric battles over "sex therapy" in the 1970s. "Until 1975, when I became psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital," McHugh writes, "I could usually keep my own counsel on these matters. But once I was given authority over all the practices in the psychiatry department I realized that if I were passive I would be tacitly co-opted in encouraging sex-change surgery in the very department that had originally proposed and still defended it." Eventually, after studies showed the damage done by these surgeries, McHugh was able to shut down the clinic that Dr. Money had used for his experiments in human nature. (The First Things report by McHugh, "Surgical Sex," is reprinted in his new book, The Mind Has Mountains: Reflections on Society and Psychiatry , a collection of his recent essays.)

The astonishing thing is how long it took the psychiatric community to react to Dr. Money’s grand claims and medical experiments. Reviewing Colapinto’s book in the Weekly Standard , Claudia Winkler noted :

At the time he had Bruce Reimer castrated, Money knew very well of evidence contradicting his theory about the primacy of learning over biology in psychosexual development. He knew this from research on hormones done at the University of Kansas¯but also from his own work. He had just co-authored, with one of his graduate students, a study of ten girls, aged three to fourteen, who had been subjected to excesses of testosterone in utero when their mothers had taken a synthetic steroid. Nine of the ten girls had been born with masculinized genitals, and all nine demonstrated "tomboyishness," marked masculine preferences in clothing, toys, and play, and a "minimal concern for feminine frills, doll play, baby care, and household chores."

Money’s own 1952 Ph.D. thesis challenged the necessity of early intervention to correct unusual genitalia. It reviewed more than two hundred and fifty cases of hermaphrodites who received no surgical intervention as babies. It concluded, to its author’s amazement, that the majority made an "adequate adjustment" to life, manifesting neither psychosis nor neurosis. In-depth interviews with ten of the subjects "only strengthened the investigator’s impression that the condition of the genitalia plays a strikingly insignificant part in the way a person develops a stable and healthy gender identity, not to mention a secure and confident self-image."

Money started touting the success of his work in the "twins case" when Brenda was seven. The case was the headline-grabbing centerpiece of Money’s address to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1972 and was prominent in his book published the same day, Man & Woman, Boy & Girl. He made no mention, however, of Brenda’s severe academic, social, and emotional difficulties, although he himself had intervened to dissuade her school from making her repeat kindergarten, and she had later repeated first grade. Money stopped bringing up the case after 1980 and deflected inquiries about its outcome, but he continued to promote surgical sex reassignment for injured or deformed baby boys.

As depressing as Money’s mendacity is the ease with which he got away with it. Money’s account of the twins case could not be verified, since the patient’s identity remained confidential, yet the lay press lapped it up. Time magazine called the case "strong support" for the view that "conventional patterns of masculine and feminine behavior can be altered." The authors of textbooks in pediatrics, endocrinology, and the social sciences were just as gullible. The 1979 Textbook of Sexual Medicine, for example, by Robert Kolodny and sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson, maintained: "The childhood development of this (genetically male) girl has been remarkably feminine and is very different from the behavior exhibited by her identical twin brother. The normality of her development can be viewed as a substantial indication of the plasticity of human gender identity and the relative importance of social learning and conditioning in this process."

Money’s work lent an aura of science to the radical feminism then politically correct. And in that heyday of radical chic, his reputation was only enhanced in some quarters by his personal outlandishness. He insisted on peppering his speech with the bluntest four-letter words. He publicly advocated open marriage, recreational sex, pornography (he was an expert witness defending the 1973 film Deep Throat ), and the various perversions he preferred to call "paraphilias." Even in the squarer 1980s, Money deplored the "moralistic ignorance" of those who reject pedophilia. In his collected writings Venuses Penuses (1985), he called himself a "missionary of sex."

The missionary of sex has now passed on, convinced to the end that he was a misunderstood and underappreciated genius. Far too many of his patients were unavailable for comment.


In addition to which :

From the beginning, First Things has been a collaborative enterprise. It is not just a magazine but—as we rather pretentiously put it—a universe of discourse. Which is another way of saying that it is a moveable feast of personal and intellectual friendships. From time to time, we’ll be posting here pictures of some of the people who sustain the First Things conversation.



This is a 1990 gathering of the editorial board. Seated left to right: Rabbi David Novak, then at the University of Virginia and now at the University of Toronto; Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard; Suzanne Garment, author; Matthew Burke, managing editor. Standing: Bruce Hafen, professor of family law at Brigham Young University; Fr. James Burtchaell, then at the university of Notre Dame; Richard John Neuhaus (before his ordination as a Catholic priest, hence the tie); Michael Novak of American Enterprise Institute; Peter L. Berger of Boston University; Glenn Loury, economist then at Harvard, now at Boston University; James Nuechterlein, editor; Thomas Derr of Smith College; Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University.

To access the running gallery, click here .


"The theocrats are coming!! The theocrats are coming!!" Paranoia and conspiracy theories about an emerging American theocracy from authors Kevin Phillips, James Rudin, Michelle Goldberg, and Randall Balmer are diagnosed by The Atlantic ‘s Ross Douthat in the newest edition of First Things . Historical revisionism is to blame for this hysteria, says Douthat. What American politics is experiencing is nothing more than a slow return to normalcy after 35 years of church/state confusion. Read the entire article by picking up a copy of the August/September double issue. Already a subscriber? Keep checking your mailbox. Not yet a subscriber? Click here to change that.

Articles by Joseph Bottum

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