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The twins’ first birthday, on 22 August 1966, passed in gloom for Ron and Janet. By January they felt like prisoners in their house. They could not even go out together to see a movie (if they had felt so inclined), since they were afraid to hire a baby-sitter who might gossip about the tragedy. By February, Ron began to wake in the middle of the night from dreams that he was strangling Dr. Huot.

Then on a Sunday evening in mid-February—some ten months after Bruce’s accident—Ron and Janet saw something that jolted them from their despondency. Their small black-and-white TV happened to be tuned to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s popular current affairs program This Hour Has Seven Days, where a man identified as Dr. John Money was a guest. A suavely charismatic individual in his late forties, bespectacled and with the long, elegantly cut features of a matinee idol, Dr. Money was talking about the wonders of gender transformation taking place at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Today, with the subject of transexual surgeries a staple of daytime talk shows, it is difficult to imagine just how alien the concept seemed on that February evening in 1967. Fifteen years earlier, in 1952, a spate of publicity had attended the announcement by American ex-GI George Jorgensen that he had undergone surgical transformation to become Christine. That operation, performed in Denmark, had been roundly criticized by American hospitals, which refused to perform the surgeries. The subject had faded from public view—until now, when Johns Hopkins announced that it had not only performed two male-to-female sex changes, but had established the world’s first clinic devoted solely to the practice of converting adults from one sex to the other. The driving force behind the renowned hospital’s adoption and promotion of the controversial procedure was the man who now appeared on the Reimers’ TV screen: Dr. John Money.

The name rang a distant bell for Ron and Janet. Shortly after Bruce’s accident, one of the Winnipeg plastic surgeons had said that he had mentioned Bruce’s case to a leading sex researcher at a medical meeting in the United States; the man had suggested that Ron and Janet raise Bruce as a girl. The doctors at the Mayo Clinic had also said something to Ron and Janet about a man in Baltimore who could help them raise Bruce as a girl. While the Mayo Clinic doctors had not themselves recommended the procedure, they had said that the Reimers might like to get a second opinion. At the time, Ron and Janet had not even considered the idea of a sex change. Or so they had thought. As they watched Dr. Money on television, they realized that the idea had never completely left them; it had lodged in the backs of their minds, as Ron puts it, “like a seed that had been planted.” Now, as they watched and listened to Dr. Money speak, it was as if that seed had grown and burst into full flower.

It was his confidence that was most striking. Even under the pressure of the staring television cameras and live studio audience, Dr. Money’s words, tinged with a highly cultured, British-sounding accent, issued forth with uncanny fluency. He did not stumble over a single syllable, even when the show’s interviewer—a bulldoglike young man named Alvin Davis—asked pointedly why psychiatrists were “so opposed” to the practice that Dr. Money was promoting.

“Well,” Money said, “I suppose it’s a self-evident fact that there are many people who feel that this is not the psychiatric way to treat these patients, since the usual definition of psychiatry is in terms of psychotherapy and the talking treatment. However, there are a small group of people who, like myself, believe that it’s thoroughly justified in an attempt to constantly increase our ability to help human beings and to see exactly what the outcome is when, let’s say, twenty or thirty people can be followed for five to ten years after having received this kind of treatment.”

“But isn’t it a fact,” Davis said, “that a homosexual will come to you and say, ‘I want to be castrated.’ And then you will make the judgment—or you and a board, a panel at Johns Hopkins will make the judgment—about whether to castrate that person?”

“Yes,” Dr. Money said, mildly. “If you want to state it that way, it’s true.”

“Not only to castrate that person,” Davis continued, his voice taking on the rising tone of a prosecutor, “but to inject hormones into the person and virtually change the person—not into a female, but into a male with female parts. Aren’t you arrogating to yourselves certain decisions that not only psychiatrists don’t want to have, but perhaps God doesn’t want to have?”

“Well,” Dr. Money said, the flicker of a smile underlining the martini-dry sarcasm in his tone, “would you like to argue on God’s side?”

“No,” Davis said. “I would like to know whether you believe God doesn’t belong in this.”

“Well,” Money replied, returning to his tone of unflappable calm, a tone ever so slightly shaded by patient condescension, “I’m not sure that’s really a particularly relevant question—although I’m aware that many would. May I,” he continued, “give you the answer of the group of ministers in Baltimore who were interrogated by the press at the time of the announcement in the papers there? The thirteen of them agreed that in terms of the magnitude of the problem—especially in terms of its magnitude in the lives of the people concerned—that this was ethically justifiable as an attempt to help them. There was one person who withheld an answer until a later date, and that was a representative of the Roman church.”

“Why isn’t the work being done here in Canada?” Davis demanded to know. And he repeated his earlier query: “And why are so many psychiatrists here so opposed to it?”

“Oh,” Money said, almost languidly, “I would think for the same reason that there tends to be a traditionalism in most places. I don’t need to tell you that in many branches of medicine, science—or even housekeeping or farming—there is a tendency to hang on to the past, to cling to the past.”

“And you’re the pioneer?” Davis asked.

“Well,” Dr. Money said, “perhaps in a small way.”

At this point the camera cut from Dr. Money and his questioner to a blond woman who walked out onto the set. Dressed in a narrow skirt, high heels, and a matching close-fitting jacket, she took a seat in the chair across from the two men. A close-up shot revealed that her round, pretty face was expertly made up, in the style of the mid-1960s, with heavy eyeliner, mascara, and foundation, her mouth thickly painted with lipstick.

“This is Mrs. Diane Baransky,” the show’s announcer said. “Until four years ago, her name was Richard.”

Ron and Janet gaped at the TV screen. It was their first glimpse, ever, of a transexual. It was one thing to hear Dr. Money talk about sex change in the abstract; it was another to see it with your own eyes. Ron and Janet could hardly believe it. If they hadn’t been told that Mrs. Baransky was born a man, they would never have guessed it. Even knowing it, it was hard to believe. She looked like an attractive, even sexy woman. The way she moved, walked, sat—even her voice, despite an ever so slight huskiness, had the timbre of a woman’s as she said hello to her host and fellow guest.

     

 

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