- The Man Who Invented Gender: Engaging the Ideas of John Money by Terry Goldie
Colleagues who saw me reading Terry Goldie’s The Man Who Invented Gender: Engaging the Ideas of John Money would frequently ask something along the lines of “That’s the doctor who tried to turn the boy with the botched circumcision into a girl?” After finishing Goldie’s nuanced exploration of the controversial sexologist, it is clear such questions sell short Dr. John Money’s (1921–2006) enormous intellectual contributions to contemporary understandings of, and debates about, gender and sexuality. [End Page 489] Given the breadth of Goldie’s book, its publication—along with Lisa Downing, Iain Morland, and Nikki Sullivan’s recent treatise on Money12—should help to fill in some of the missing knowledge on the man proclaimed in the title to have “invented gender.” Of course, as Goldie points out, Money did not exactly invent the term gender from scratch; instead, he conceptualized and popularized its current-day definition as the social meaning attached to sex categories. It is this kind of attention to detail that credits Goldie as a reliable narrator in his engagement with Money’s ideas.
While Goldie contends that his book is about texts rather than biography, chapter one provides biographical information about Money’s upbringing in New Zealand, giving the reader a sense of the flesh-and-blood man. Goldie then explores Money as a foundational theorist of intersexuality (chapter two), transsexuality (chapter four), and homosexuality (chapter five). What is fascinating about Money is that, on the one hand, his theories supported progressive ideas about the malleability of gender, the right to sex reassignment surgery, the benign nature of homosexuality, and the continuum between male and female, and between heterosexual and homosexual. On the other hand, he seemed convinced that society relied on certain divisions, like the sex binary, and as a clinician he reinforced that binary, sometimes with devastating results, as was the case with his famous patient, David Reimer, discussed below. Money was a prolific creator of neologisms (chapter six)—always intent on more accurately and scientifically capturing the phenomena he studied. One such neologism, the lovemap, is explored in chapter three, where the reader learns about the origins of this spatial concept of human desire, now a staple of pop psychology. Chapter seven addresses multiple subjects, such as Money’s ambivalent position on pedophilia (which suggested that intergenerational relationships could have positive features), his support of pornography as a pro-social resource, and his sexual liberationist stance.
Money authored numerous scholarly and lay publications and was interviewed many times in the popular media. Goldie suggests that, in his heyday, Money’s influence was encapsulated in the 1977 issue of the John Hopkins News-Letter that proclaimed, “Doctor Money Speaks, the Whole World Listens.” Yet today, as my opening anecdote suggests, he is most known for his central involvement in the “John/Joan” case, which marked Money’s reputational downfall. The case concerns David Peter Reimer (August 22, 1965-May 4, 2004), who was designated male at birth, experienced a circumcision that maimed his penis, and then was [End Page 490] reassigned to be female under the supervision of Money. In his adolescence, Reimer began identifying as a boy, despite medical efforts to steer him otherwise, and soon thereafter transitioned to living as a male. Reimer eventually went public with his story in the hopes of preventing others from experiencing the same fate. In his late thirties, Reimer committed suicide. Goldie’s last substantive chapter addresses the Reimer case, but it is less an exploration of Reimer’s life, or Money’s involvement, and more a critique of another book about Reimer: John Colapinto’s As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl.13 Interestingly, Goldie’s approach is not to identify alleged errors of fact in Colapinto’s work but rather to suggest that the book’s narrative unfairly demonizes Money. It is here that Goldie’s expertise as an English scholar is particularly...