The boy with no penis: David Reimer & the question of what is innate

Carrie-Anne is a thirtysomething historical novelist, historian, and lover of many things from bygone eras (except for the sexism, racism, and homophobia). She can be found at Welcome to My Magick Theatre, where she primarily blogs about writing, historical topics, names, silent and early sound cinema, and classic rock and pop; and at Onomastics Outside the Box, where she blogs about names and naming-related issues. Her only child, a 17-year-old spider plant named Kalanit, has thankfully never had any issues with her gender identity!

Carrie-Anne can be found on Twitter @Anyechka and is available to interact in the comments section of this post. Her previous article for 4thWaveNow was “Transing the Dead: The erasure of gender-defiant role models from history.”

by Carrie-Anne Brownian

Though many people today have wholeheartedly accepted the theory claiming “gender identity” is innate, such an idea developed very recently in the grand span of human history. The word “gender” itself also only came to be used in reference to the state of being male or female (or some new-fangled “identity” such as “agender” or “femme demiboy”) very recently. A predominant reason for this sharp shift in language is the work of Dr. John Money (8 July 1921–7 July 2006). But before I embark on a discussion of the most infamous exemplar of Money’s legacy—the case of David Reimer–some etymological explanations are in order.

The word “gender” entered the English language in the year 1300, by way of the Old French gendre and genre, meaning “kind, species; character.” In English, the word had almost the exact same meaning, “kind, class, sort, a class or kind of persons or things sharing certain traits.” The Old French word in turn comes from the Latin genus (genitive form generis), “race, stock, family; kind, rank, order; species.” Its ultimate etymological root is the Proto–Indo–European *gene- (give birth, beget). Other words formed from this ancient root related to familial and tribal groups, as well as procreation.

Though “gender” is attested as referring to biological sex in English as early as the 15th century, this wasn’t the most common usage of the word. Even the Victorians, cast in the modern imagination as extremely prudish, and, well—Victorian–used the word “sex” when referring to the state of being female or male. It was only in the last few decades of the 20th century, after the word “sex” came to be the common parlance to refer to sexual relations, that the switch began. (On an interesting side note, the phrase “making love,” now seen as a softer, romantic way to refer to sexual relations, only referred to sweet-talking or other attempted wooing until the earlier decades of the 20th century.)

Instead, the word “gender” was by and large used to refer to grammar. Though English isn’t a particularly gendered language, many other languages are. Nouns, adjectives, definite articles, and pronouns are all feminine, masculine, or neuter. Some words in some languages will always maintain their grammatical gender, while others are modified based upon whether, for example, a cat, teacher, or baby is female or male. Not just the nouns and pronouns themselves, but also the accompanying adjectives and definite articles, are subsequently gendered to agree with the main object. Some languages, most famously many of the Slavic languages, gender surnames and patronymics based upon the sex of the bearer. Grammatical gender also includes verb forms. The example most readers will probably be familiar with is the French née/né (she was born/he was born), used to refer to a birth name.

All this changed with the appearance of Dr. John Money in the mid-20th century.


John Money

John Money was born in Morrinsville, New Zealand, to an English mother and Australian father.  He had quite a dysfunctional childhood.

Money was raised in a very strict, religious home, where anything related to sex was repressed and portrayed as dirty and sinful.  From his first day of school at age five, he was marked by bullies not only as someone who didn’t fight back, but who took shelter in the girls’ play-shed.  Later in life, he wrote about his father “with barely controlled venom,” describing him as an extremely cruel man who shot birds in his fruit garden and administered a brutal, abusive whipping and interrogation to his son on account of a broken window.  At age eight, his father died, and he wasn’t told for three days [Colapinto, John, As Nature Made Him:  The Boy Who Was Raised As a Girl, 2000; also see Colapinto, John, “The True Story of John/Joan,” Rolling Stone, 11 December 1997, pgs. 54–97)].

After his father’s death, Money was raised in a house full of women, whom he believed despised all things male and viewed him as wearing “the mark of man’s vile sexuality” (i.e., the penis and testes).  In the 1997 anthology How I Got into Sex, in an essay entitled “Serendipities on the Sexological Pathway to Research in Gender Identity and Sex Reassignment,” Money described how this led him to reject the role of “man of the household,” and “wondered if the world might really be a better place for women if not only farm animals but human males also were gelded at birth.”  (This is also related in Colapinto’s book.)

After graduating from high school early, he attended Victoria University in Wellington. In 1944, he earned a double master’s in philosophy/psychology and education, as well as a teaching certificate. Because New Zealand didn’t grant doctorates in psychology in that era, Money immigrated to North America in 1947.

Money worked at the Psychiatric Institute at the University of Pittsburgh for awhile, and was later accepted into Harvard’s PhD program in the Department of Social Relations. In 1952, he earned his doctorate, with a thesis entitled “Hermaphroditism: An Inquiry into the Nature of a Human Paradox.”

During the 1950s, Money began studying intersex people, who were then referred to as hermaphrodites. Most famously, in a 1955 paper, he expounded upon six variables which he believed defined biological sex. Though all these variables are identical in the average person (as all are either male or female), things aren’t so cut and dried with the intersex.

Money identified these variables as:

  1. Assigned sex and sex of rearing.
  2. External genital morphology.
  3. Internal reproductive structures.
  4. Hormonal and secondary sex characteristics.
  5. Gonadal sex.
  6. Chromosomal sex.

He also added a seventh factor applying to people for whom there were mismatched combinations and permutations of the above-mentioned six factors: Gender role and orientation as male or female, which he posited were established while growing up [Money, John; Hampson, Joan G.; Hampson, John, “An Examination of Some Basic Sexual Concepts: The Evidence of Human Hermaphroditism,” Oct. 1955].

Money defined “gender role” as:

[A]ll those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman, respectively. It includes, but is not restricted to sexuality in the sense of eroticism. Gender role is appraised in relation to the following: general mannerisms, deportment and demeanor; play preferences and recreational interests; spontaneous topics of talk in unprompted conversation and casual comment; content of dreams, daydreams and fantasies; replies to oblique inquiries and projective tests; evidence of erotic practices, and, finally, the person’s own replies to direct inquiry. [Ibid.]

As compared to the earlier definition of gender as referring to the state of being female or male (usually in a grammatical sense), Money expanded it to refer to personality, self-definition, behavior, social role, and cultural role. He believed gender is something one learns, irrespective of reproductive biology. Money further distinguished between “gender identity” (the internal experience of one’s sex) and “gender role” (social expectations of female and male behavior).

Money’s research on the intersex led him to researching transsexualism. From 1964–67, he was part of a research team led by famous sexologist and endocrinologist Dr. Harry Benjamin. Because of the team’s research, the Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic was founded in July 1966. At the time, almost no one else offered so-called “sex reassignment surgery.”

Into all this stepped Janet and Ronald Reimer of Winnipeg, Canada, desperate for someone to help their young son Bruce.

On 27 April 1966, eight-month-old twins Bruce and Brian Reimer were scheduled for a medically-necessary circumcision to correct their phimosis. The first twin to undergo the procedure was Bruce.


David Reimer

Because the attending general practitioner (not the usual urologist) elected to use a Bovie cautery machine (an electrical needle) instead of a more traditional method, very serious complications were visited upon Bruce. His penis was severely burnt, and the urologist who was called couldn’t insert a catheter in the urethra. The catheter had to be inserted through the abdomen and into the bladder, in an emergency suprapubic cystotomy. Over the next few days, Bruce’s penis dried up and broke off in pieces, with only the urethra left like a dangling piece of string [Colapinto, John, As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As a Girl, 2000].

After the Reimers realized the damage was irreversible, and that Bruce wouldn’t just have a tiny penis but none at all, they were desperate for something, anything, to help their son live a somewhat normal life. All the doctors had told them Bruce would never have a sex life or be part of society without a working penis. The Reimers felt a new wave of hope when they saw Dr. Money on the TV program Tis Hour Has Seven Days in February 1967, being interviewed with Diane (né Richard) Baransky, a male-to-female transsexual whose reassignment surgery he’d performed [Ibid.].

The Reimers brought Bruce to Johns Hopkins, and Dr. Money told them he could live a happy, normal life if he were surgically altered and raised as a girl. At the age of twenty-two months, Bruce received an orchiectomy (castration) and rudimentary vaginoplasty. He was also renamed Brenda. This was the same course of action Dr. Money recommended for all intersex children, with the parents being the ones to decide which sex it would supposedly be easier for their child to be raised as.

Dr. Money saw in these young twins the potential to test and prove his theories about gender identity. Brian, the other twin, hadn’t been maimed, and so was still an anatomically normal male. He would be socially and culturally raised as a boy, while his pretend sister would have no memory of having been a boy, and also had no intersex abnormalities. “She” was still young enough to develop a gender identity as a girl, if she were strictly raised as one. With the right environment, gender identity could successfully change, with the child none the wiser. Identical twins provided the perfect paired test subjects, with a built-in control subject (Brian).

Janet Reimer began putting the renamed Brenda in “girls’ clothes” such as skirts, dresses, and blouses, studiously avoiding pants. Though Winnipeg has some of the most frigid winters in North America, Dr. Money didn’t want Brenda to wear pants like her other female classmates. Any deviation from the strict gender roles he insisted upon would ruin his experiment.

Dr. Money also insisted the Reimers not let Brenda play with “boys’ toys,” and ordered them to treat her “like a girl” (e.g., gently, sweetly, softly). Brian meanwhile was raised exactly the opposite, in the stereotypical gender role of a boy.

reimer twins

The Reimer twins

The twins regularly came to see Dr. Money, so he could see how the experiment was working out. During these visits, according to several sources, the children were forced to take their clothes off, engage in sex play as he took pictures, view pornographic films and photographs, inspect one another’s genitals, and many other things which were beyond inappropriate and unethical. Dr. Money also interviewed them to see how secure they were in their respective gender identities. The twins routinely gave him the answers they knew he wanted to hear, just so they could get out of his office as soon as possible. These interviews also included very graphic, inappropriate questions. At home, he ordered their parents to walk around naked in front of them, so they could see the differences in biological sex illustrated in real life. Another aspect of his experiment involved having sex in front of their children, which they wisely refused to do. (Sources bearing this out include Colapinto’s book, the 2004 BBC Horizon documentary Dr. Money and the Boy with No Penis, and the 2000 BBC Horizon documentary The Boy Who Was Turned into a Girl. As adults, the twins also stated that they firmly believed this information is in files which Dr. Money donated to the Kinsey Institute, files which the institute refuses to release to the public.)

Money believed his experiment was a success, and he published several papers on what he called the “John/Joan case.” In particular, he publicized these findings in his 1972 textbook Man & Woman, Boy & Girl. These findings were used, for many years, to support surgical sex reassignment for intersex children, and children with conditions such as micropenis and an enlarged clitoris.

But behind the scenes, the experiment was never a success. Brenda always had an unexplainable feeling something wasn’t right, not least because her genitals didn’t look like those of other girls. She often fought with her brother at home and boys at school; found it very difficult to be friends with other girls, even the so-called tomboys; wanted to play with “boys’ toys,” like cars, and do “boys’ things,” like pretend to shave; didn’t like the stereotypical trappings of femininity; and urinated standing up. Brenda also repeatedly refused to undergo surgery for a more detailed vaginoplasty, and fought against taking estrogen pills. Both she and Brian were terrified of having to see Dr. Money ever again, and Brenda in particular experienced a suicidal depression [Colapinto, ibid].

When the truth came out when she was about 14, Brenda immediately reclaimed her natal male sex and took the name David, inspired by the warrior spirit of King David. Even though he couldn’t fully understand what his pull towards maleness meant, he instinctively understood something wasn’t right, and that he wasn’t like other girls, even the most tomboyish. This went far beyond merely being a very stereotypically masculine girl. The fact that his body had been surgically altered added to his sense of not being normal, and not belonging to the female sex class.

Though he wasn’t socialized as male, he knew who he was. Whatever the relative contributions of nature and nurture to stereotypical “male” pursuits—toy trucks, sports, rough-housing, and tool sets—David felt called towards the physical, biological aspects of maleness, and fought against the attempts to pretend he was a girl. He never felt female.

Unfortunately, modern-day transactivists regularly use his story to try to prove gender identity is innate, when it truly proves the opposite. David was born a normal male, suffered a freak accident, and was unsuccessfully raised as a girl. He wasn’t a natal female who always felt male, nor was he a boy who was able to adopt the stereotypical persona of a girl and never consider himself male in any way.

Dr. Money was still pretending the John/Joan experiment was a success as late as 1997, and using his pretended findings to recommend the same course of action to intersex children and children with genital abnormalities. It was then, in a 2000 interview with the CBC program The Fifth Estate, that the twins finally went public about the unethical experiment and counseling sessions they’d been subjected to. Their story was also told on a 2001 episode of NOVA, Sex: Unknown. They wanted to save other children from suffering the same fate, which had already been visited upon thousands.

For his part, Dr. Money believed the experiment had failed only because of the delay in Brenda receiving an orchiectomy and rudimentary vaginoplasty; Brenda’s knowledge of being an identical twin, and having this twin with whom to compare her genital self; various post-traumatic stresses; parental ignorance; intrusive outsiders threatening to give away the secret; having a trust fund while her twin didn’t; and not presenting lesbianism as a viable possibility.

Sadly, the childhood traumas never left either of the twins, and they had serious psychological problems as a result, including depression and a strained relationship both with one another and with their parents. Brian, who’d developed schizophrenia, died from an overdose of antidepressants in 2002, and in 2004, David committed suicide a few days after his wife told him she wanted a separation.

In spite of how Money has, in recent years, been rather clearly brought to light as someone who wasn’t exactly the world’s most ethical doctor, many people continue to sing his praises and tout his studies as proof positive of gender either being innate or able to be taught. On the contrary, if his research proves anything, it’s that biological sex is the only thing which is innate.

For those who claim David’s lifelong gravitation towards stereotypically male things means gender roles and expected interests are inborn, another explanation is that David, instinctively sensing he was first different from the others and then coming to realize he was male, was also influenced by society’s stereotypical gender roles. In another era or culture, he may have gravitated towards things considered feminine in the modern West.

David also knew something wasn’t right about his body. When he was living as Brenda, he realized his genitals didn’t look like those of other girls, and his own parents acknowledged this. They told her Dr. Money was pressuring her into a more detailed vaginoplasty because, when she was a baby, “a doctor made a mistake down there,” and it had to be corrected. Brenda then asked her father if he’d beaten the doctor up [Colapinto, ibid].

In addition to abnormal genitals, Brenda never menstruated, and had to be forced to take estrogen in order to grow breasts. Other abnormalities about her supposed female body were that she developed an Adam’s apple, never had a very feminine voice (not even the type of husky voice some women naturally have), and didn’t have a female bone structure or muscle mass. All these strange things about her body led her to feeling a disconnect from the gender role she was being raised as. This was far more than merely preferring certain toys and being rough-and-tumble [Colapinto, ibid.].

People nowadays who believe no lasting harm can come from socially transitioning a child, or a teen or twentysomething embarking upon that path oneself, need to take a long, hard look at what the true moral of this story is. Even if the child or young adult realizes it was a mistake, fueled by a myriad of underlying causes, and returns to living as the natal sex, there may be great confusion, a sense of betrayal, or deep-seated psychological damage, which can’t completely be undone. At best, it can be minimized, but certainly not overnight.

Today, Money’s legacy takes the form of transitioning children, or claiming a trans identity, because one’s personality and interests don’t match what society has decided is acceptable for members of one’s biological sex. Instead of surgically altering babies because of a micropenis, botched circumcision, or enlarged clitoris, gender-atypical children are socially transitioned, told their bodies are wrong but their brains are right, and given sterilizing drugs and irreversible surgeries by their teens or early twenties.

Though Money styled himself as a progressive, his theory of gender identity is anything but. It’s built around the idea that girls must always wear dresses, be spoken to softly, and play with dolls, while boys are the ones who play sports, wear pants, and study science.

One’s interests and chosen appearance (hairstyles and clothing) really amount to one’s personality—however atypical for one’s sex. Biology doesn’t dictate whether one likes a certain hair length, color, or item of clothing. In fact, many people have gender-atypical interests and personalities, particularly lesbians and gay men.

Even aside from gender roles, what person has never developed any interest independently of socialization and parental influence (whatever population norms may be for male/female typicality)? For example, my own passion for silent film didn’t come from anyone in my family or earliest circles of peers. It’s just something I’ve always been deeply enamored of, since my first exposure to it as a preteen.

Wouldn’t it be nice to return to the society we enjoyed all too briefly a few decades ago, when children of both sexes experienced far less pressure to pick between the blue and pink boxes, and when people realized biological sex was purely about biology instead of a collection of stereotypes?

Transing the dead: The erasure of gender-defiant role models from history

This is a guest post by frequent 4thwavenow commenter Carrie-Anne Brownian, a thirtysomething historical novelist, historian, and lover of many things from bygone eras (except for the sexism, racism, and homophobia).  She can be found at Welcome to My Magick Theatre, where she primarily blogs about writing, historical topics, names, silent and early sound cinema, and classic rock and pop; and at Onomastics Outside the Box, where she blogs about names and naming-related issues. Her only child, a 16-year-old spider plant named Kalanit, has thankfully never had any issues with her gender identity!

 by Carrie-Anne Brownian

A most disturbing development in the current climate of transactivist zealotry has been the posthumous transing of famous gender-defiant women.  Women such as Joan of Arc, Mulan, Carson McCullers, Radclyffe Hall, Mountain Charley (Elsa Jane Forest Guerin), George Sand, and Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt, to name but a few, are now being claimed as transmen.  Like so many other things about the modern trans movement, this is inherently sexist and harmful to women, particularly young women just starting to figure out who they really are; young women who sorely need strong female role models..

As discussed in a previous 4thWaveNow post Hippocrates rolls in his grave: In search of the dysphoric trans tweens of yore, there is absolutely no historical evidence whatsoever for the existence of desperate, suicidally dysphoric trans kids.  There is, however,  a long history of third genders in many cultures, but those people somehow managed to live happy, healthy lives without suicidal thoughts, drugs, and surgeries.  Many transactivists claim trans-identified people have always existed, but just werent openly spoken about, or were deep in the closet.  However, we only have to take a cursory look at the ample historical evidence regarding gays, lesbians, and left-handers to know this claim is a bunch of horsefeathers.  Those groups of people have always existed, and the historical record shows it.  In a retroactive attempt to rewrite history, the transactivists have seized upon gender-defiant historical and cultural figures of both sexes, primarily women (as well as claiming the intersexed as trans).  While true historians should always be open to new evidence and willing to exchange old beliefs for new if theres a compelling enough reason, theres a big difference between legitimate historical revisionism (e.g., shifting attitudes about Christopher Columbus, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the Crusades) and outright denial or rewriting history to fit an agenda.  And once trans activists have posthumously labeled a dead person as one of their own,  they get very upset when such dead trans people, such as Billy Tipton, are referred to by their biological sex.

For much of recorded human history, even into the twentieth century, women who wanted to serve in combat, travel or live alone, work in most professions, get published, compete in sports, or conduct research felt compelled to disguise themselves as men.  That didnt make them transmen; it made them girls and women with no other options in a patriarchal, androcentric world.  No one would have, for example, published George Eliot, or taken her seriously as a writer, had she used her birth name of Mary Ann Evans, just as Kathrine Switzer had to sign up for the Boston Marathon as K.V. Switzer as recently as 1967 because women werent allowed to compete.


NPG 669,George Eliot (Mary Ann Cross (nÈe Evans)),by Sir Frederic William Burton

George Eliot/Mary Ann Evans, widely regarded as one of the greatest Western writers of all time

This may be hard for liberal Westerners under the age of twenty-five to comprehend, but women have historically been denied access to positions of power, most careers, education, legal protections, politics, combat roles, club memberships, athletic competitions, and so forth, solely on the basis of being female.  Women even had to fight for the right to use their own names on legal documents, instead of being forced to sign as Mrs. Husbands Full Name, or to do anything of importance without a husband or fathers co-signature or permission.  By anachronistically pretending all these brave, trailblazing women were truly men, the historical realities of institutionalized sexism and male privilege are written out of existence, and impressionable young people will be led to believe women havent played any kind of important role in history.
For various reasons, women across the ages have wanted to serve in the military, in spite of it being all-male for much of human history.
  Many people are familiar with stories of soldiers and sailors who were eventually found out as women.  Yet the modern spin is that
all these women were really transmen, not women who had no choice but to disguise their true sex in order to join an all-male military.  By taking away this important part of womens history (regardless of what ones own personal feelings regarding war and the military might be), and reclassifying them as men, womens historic achievements in this field are erased.  A young person who genuinely doesnt know any better may someday believe only men served in the military prior to the modern era. Its easy to extrapolate that a young modern woman might feel she needed to transition if denied role models of brave women soldiers from bygone eras.



Radclyffe Hall, author of the first recognized English-language novel with a lesbian theme


Probably unsurprisingly, though still infuriatingly, many lesbians have been coming in for the posthumous transing treatment lately.  One prominent example is Radclyffe Hall (née Marguerite Radclyffe Hall), author of the groundbreaking lesbian classic The Well of Loneliness, and an earlier, somewhat lesser-known novel with lesbian overtures, The Unlit Lamp.  Ms. Hall was what would today be called a butch lesbian, just like the protagonist of The Well of Loneliness, Stephen Gordon.  Her first longterm partner nicknamed her John, which she went by for the rest of her life.  However, in spite of her stereotypically masculine appearance and male nickname, she never actually claimed to be a man.  Its not exactly uncommon for lesbians to go by male monikers, and butch lesbians are just as much real women as women bathed in pink, glitter, and makeup. So another female role model bites the dust, leaving butch or more masculine appearing/behaving lesbians bereft of an important historical ancestor. 

As per the late nineteenth and early twentieth century theory of sexual inversion, it was believed gays and lesbians were born with the stereotypical traits of the opposite sex; e.g., girls wanted short hair and hated dresses, while boys preferred crocheting to hunting and displayed emotions openly.  When they were attracted to members of the opposite sex who adhered more closely to gendered stereotypes, it was considered to be latent heterosexuality.  But again, Ms. Hall had relationships with other women, as a woman.



Jeanne d’Arc, the teenage girl who became a great hero

Joan of Arc (Jeanne dArc) has long been a hero to many, particularly the people of France, for her decisive role in the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years War.  During the military campaigns in which she participated, she donned traditional male attire.  When she was captured by the enemy and put through kangaroo court, her so-called offenses were heresy and witchcraft, though the technical reason was cross-dressing.  Joan promised to return to wearing womens clothes after her abjuration, though she continued wearing mens clothes in prison to guard against rape.  A dress or skirt offered no such practical protection.  Indeed, several days after her abjuration, an English lord tried to rape her, and she resumed wearing mens clothes.

In 1803, Napoléon Bonaparte declared Joan a national symbol of France, and in 1920, she was canonized in the Roman Catholic Church.  Throughout the ages, many women have looked up to her as a great hero and inspiration, starting in Joans own lifetime with famous writer Christine de Pizan.  Shes also been the subject of countless poems, plays, books, operas, paintings, sculptures, and films.  Joans presence in movies goes back almost as far as film itself, to 1898.  Her trial and execution are depicted in one of the greatest films of the silent era, The Passion of Joan of Arc, directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer and starring Maria Falconetti in her only major film role.  This powerful film never fails to move me to tears.

Joan never claimed to be a man, though shes been taken up as a trans hero by countless modern-day historical revisionists and transactivists.  Some of them claim she had to be trans simply on the basis of not having adhered to feminine stereotypes and moving beyond the societal roles dictated for women, even in the absence of a sexual reason behind her cross-dressing.  Leslie Feinberg, in Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman, claims Joans donning of armor was an example of cross-gendered expression in a society which dictated only men could be warriors. Yet another source claims Joans cross-dressing automatically made her trans or queer.

All these people are applying their own biases and contemporary views to a historical era they clearly know nothing about.  By making the trans umbrella so wide, these activists are making it a lot harder for the tiny minority of people who have legitimate, overwhelming, lifelong bodily dysphoria and bodily dysphoria alone to get treatment and be taken seriously.


Carson McCullers, American novelist and playwright

A very recent addition to the posthumous transing of the dead phenomenon is the lesbian writer Carson McCullers (née Lula Carson Smith).  In an article published in The New Yorker on 21 October 2016, author Sarah Schulman claims McCullers had issues with her gender.  She gives such proof as having tomboyish protagonists named Frankie and Mick; going by her middle name, Carson, instead of her birth forename Lula; supposedly never having slept with any of the women she romantically pursued; and once having declared, I think I was born a boy.  This kind of postmodernist, historical revisionism threatens to eventually declare every single lesbian, feminist, and gender-defiant woman ever really had to be a transman.

One more example of a gender-defiant woman getting posthumously transed is Mountain Charley, whose true name was Elsa Jane Forest Guerin.  She was a legendary hero of the American frontier, and has been written about in such books as Pioneer Women: The Lives of Women on the Frontier, by Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith.  She also wrote her own memoirs, in which she never claimed to be a man.  The true account of her life makes it clear she donned male attire to earn money to support herself and her two children, and to get revenge on her husbands murderer.  Young girls who love dressing up as cowgirls and hearing stories about the Old West couldve once gravitated towards her a hero, but instead, shes now being passed off as unambiguously male in a Tumblr comic.

Gender-defiant men have also been coming in for the posthumous transing treatment, such as Prince, David Bowie, Kurt Cobain, even Jesus.  I honestly wouldnt be surprised if they eventually try to get their claws into my favorite actor, Rudolph Valentino, who was well-known for being gender-defiant.  The powers that be were very upset at how a man who wore jewelry, showed emotions and sensitivity, engaged in feminine pursuits like gardening, and spent more than five minutes grooming himself could corrupt American manhood and lead women away from macho he-men dripping with machismo and the stereotypical all-American boy next door.  While racism and xenophobia were also factors, theres no denying a large part of the status quos uneasiness was because of Rudys gender-defiance.  Hes long been painted as a closeted gay man (without a shred of evidence), so posthumously transing him would only be the next logical step for these people who cant think outside of sexist stereotypes.

Gendered stereotypes arent biologically and genetically encoded into our brains.  When a man like Prince wore makeup and cross-dressed, he was doing it as a man, not a transwoman.  Similarly, when Kurt Cobain expressed discomfort with the macho role and male stereotypes, he wasnt motivated by feelings of being trapped in the wrong body, in spite of modern-day claims to the contrary.  Its called having a personality, and using ones own mind and feelings instead of letting society dictate exactly how to think, speak, dress, and behave.  Real people arent collections of sexist stereotypes.

When young women of today are told these inspirational, trailblazing, heroic, talented, gender-defiant women were really men, theyre losing a very important source of pride regarding what women are capable of.  In its place, theyre getting the message that women who dont perform femininity, who want to be more than sex objects, wives, mothers, and Barbie dolls, cant possibly be real women.  Its as if weve collectively stepped into a time machine taking us back to the 1950s, when women who wanted to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, mechanics, architects, professors, scientists, businesswomen, basically anything other than wives and mothers by the age of twenty, were looked upon with hostility, fear, and suspicion, even believed to be mentally ill.

To date, Ive twice read Brett Harveys The Fifties:  A Womens Oral History, and both times felt alternately glad I never had to live in a world like that, and shocked and heartbroken for these women who had to deal with so much institutionalized sexism, lesbophobia, and misogyny.  Now were devolving into that same kind of cultural milieu, only with different trappings.  Its like the 1950s 2.0.

Young men also suffer, in different ways, when theyre told real men are macho he-men who cant possibly enjoy looking pretty, feel comfortable displaying emotions, or engage in pursuits like ballet or fashion design.  Under that kind of logic, all the great danseurs like Nijinsky, any man who ever entered a career devoid of machismo, and just about all the gender-bending men who proudly and unashamedly took on the New Romantic style of the early Eighties were all transwomen in the closet.  Seeing positive, high-profile examples of gender-defiant men can only help young men, by showing them real men come in many different forms.

As a name nerd, I also cant help but notice a parallel to the massive rise in popularity of traditionally male names for girls, and the subsequent, permanent loss of most of these names to the girls side.  Parents frequently say they want to give their daughter a name like Riley, Aidan, Dylan, Tyler, William, Jordan, or Kyle because it sounds strong, as though a name like Elizabeth, Katherine, Margaret, Octavia, Ophelia, or Zenobia is horribly weak and passive.  Likewise, many parents declare a name like Julian, Micah, Nikita, or Adrian is too girly for a boy, and fear hell get beaten up for not having a name drenched in machismo.

In the brave new world of the transactivists, everyone is a collection of rigid sexist stereotypes, and any deviation from this 1950s-style binary must really be the opposite sex.  All girls and women love pink, only go to university for a Mrs. degree and drop out once theyve gotten it, exclusively wear dresses and skirts, dont leave the house without makeup and perfume, have long hair, wear high heels all the time, never do anything active, and derive their greatest pleasures from being full-time wives and mothers.  All boys and men, meanwhile, have short hair, never wear makeup or any article of clothing even remotely associated with women, love sports, are emotionally distant, excel at STEM fields, and hate shopping.  Minus positive gender-defiant role models, impressionable young people will be, and are being, led to believe they must really be the opposite sex.

In 1976, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich famously said, Well-behaved women seldom make history.  Now, under the aegis of historical revisionists, women dont make history at all, unless they were really men.