In his campaign to establish Johns Hopkins as the first hospital in America to embrace transexual surgeries, Money knew that he would first have to bring on board a respected medical man. (Money himself was a psychologist and did not possess a medical degree of any kind.) He turned first to Dr. Howard Jones, the Johns Hopkins gynecologist who had perfected the surgical techniques for sex assignment on Money’s infant intersexual subjects. “I can recall,” Jones says, “that for a number of months, maybe even years, John kept raising the question of whether we shouldn’t get into the transexual situation.” While Jones was interested in experimental medicine (he would eventually leave Johns Hopkins for the University of Virginia where he would found the nation’s first in vitro fertilization clinic), he was resistant to the idea of performing elective castrations and genital reconstruction on adults.
But Money was persistent. He turned for help to Dr. Harry Benjamin. The acknowledged grandfather of transexual study in America, Benjamin had for the previous ten years been quietly referring transexual patients to doctors in Casablanca and Morocco for sex change surgery. Money enlisted three of Benjamin’s postoperative transexuals to come to Johns Hopkins and meet with Jones and pediatric endocrinologist Milton Edgerton. Eventually Jones and Edgerton were convinced. “John finally marshaled enough evidence,” as Jones puts it, “to indicate that this was something that maybe should be done.” Fittingly enough, Money was given the job of naming the new clinic for adult transexual surgeries. He dubbed it the Gender Identity Clinic.
The first complete transexual surgery at Johns Hopkins was performed by Dr. Jones on 1 June 1965, when a New Yorker named Phillip Wilson became Phyllis Avon Wilson. But it still remained for Johns Hopkins to sell the idea to the American public. While some members of the sex change committee argued for keeping the existence of the clinic quiet, Money pushed for a preemptive strike and argued in favor of creating a press release that would circumvent leaked rumors about what the team had done. Money’s argument prevailed, and he helped concoct a press release with the hospital’s public relations department. The statement was issued on 21 November 1966. Money later revealed that a strategic decision had been made to issue the press release to the New York Times alone. The prestige of the Times, the Johns Hopkins team hoped, would set the tone for all other media coverage. “The plans,” Money later wrote, “worked out exactly as hoped.”
The Times treated the revelations with none of the scandalized outrage that had greeted the Jorgensen case in 1951. The front-page story used verbatim quotations from Gender Identity Clinic chairman John Hoopes, culled directly from the Johns Hopkins press release, and presented the procedure as a humane and effective solution to an intractable psychosexual problem. Similarly approving stories followed in all three news weeklies, Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report. In April 1967 Esquire magazine published an exhaustive feature on the Johns Hopkins clinic, in which Money was admiringly quoted. Indeed, of all the coverage in late 1966 and early 1967 of Johns Hopkins’ pioneering foray into transexual surgery, by far the hardest edged was CBC’s This Hour Has Seven Days, in which Alvin Davis sharply challenged Money on the ethics and efficacy of switching people’s sex. Except for the single stinging rejoinder (“Would you like to argue on God’s side?”), Money had refused to rise to the bait, and thus, for his fellow Gender Identity Clinic committee members, set the standard for how to handle direct attacks. Money’s calm, judicious performance was a masterpiece of public relations, and all the more impressive to those who knew the ferocity with which, in ordinary life, he responded to even the mildest opposition to his opinions.
As Money himself would admit in an essay written in 1990, “In the practice of my psychohormonal research, I do not suffer fools gladly.” This was an understatement. The psychologist’s violent reactions to intellectual challenge were legendary. “John was unusually brilliant,” says Dr. Donald Laub, a pioneer in adult transexual surgical techniques who has known Money for thirty years. “He may be the smartest person I’ve ever met. He was so smart that it was a problem—because he knew everybody else was dumb.” By all accounts, Money had no compunction about letting others know his low opinion of their intellectual firepower. “Even when John asked for feedback, what he was looking for was agreement,” says Dr. Howard Devore, a psychologist who earned his Ph.D. under Money in the Psychohormonal Research Unit in the mid-1980s. Should that agreement fail to be forthcoming, Money was never afraid to let his displeasure be known. As early as the mid-1950s, Money had a reputation for tantrums among his coworkers, underlings, and students that preceded him throughout the academic world.
“Every center that I trained at after [Johns Hopkins],” says Devore, “when people saw on my résumé that I had worked with John Money, they would ask me to comment, off the record, what it was like working with him and was he ‘as bad as people say?’ I was just amazed at how consistent his worldwide reputation actually was. And frankly, John didn’t do that much to hide it. I once saw him stand up at an academic meeting and shout a presenter down because he didn’t agree with what she was saying.”
By February 1967—when Ron and Janet Reimer first saw John Money on television—his reputation was for all intents and purposes unassailable. Dr. Benjamin Rosenberg, himself a leading psychologist who specialized in sexual identity, says that Money was “the leader—the front-runner on everything having to do with mixed sex and hermaphrodites and the implications for homosexuality and on and on and on.”
Money’s reach and influence throughout the academic and scientific world would help to define the scientific landscape for decades to come—indeed, to the present day: many of his students and protégés, trained in his theories of psychosexual differentiation, have gone on to occupy the top positions at some of the most respected universities, research institutions, and scientific journals in the country. His former students include Dr. Anke Ehrhardt, now a senior professor at Columbia University; Dr. Richard Green, director of the Gender Identity Clinic in London, England; Dr. June Reinisch, who for years was head of the famed Kinsey Institute; and Dr. Mark Schwartz, director of the influential Masters and Johnson Clinic.
On the clinical side, Money’s influence was perhaps even more remarkable. His theories on the psychosexual flexibility at birth of humans form the cornerstone of an entire medical specialty—pediatric endocrinology. Professor Suzanne Kessler, in her 1998 book, Lessons from the Intersexed, suggests that Money’s views and their implications for the treatment of ambiguously sexed babies form among physicians “a consensus that is rarely encountered in science.”
There was, however, at least one researcher in the mid-1960s who was willing to question John Money. He was a young graduate student fresh from the University of Kansas.
The son of struggling Ukrainian Jewish immigrant parents, Milton Diamond, whom friends called Mickey, was raised in the Bronx, where he had sidestepped membership in the local street gangs for the life of a scholar. As an undergraduate majoring in biophysics at the City College of New York, Diamond had become fascinated by the role hormones played in human behavior. Seeking a place to do graduate work, he chose Kansas, where anatomist William C. Young (famous for his hallmark studies of the 1930s on the role of hormones in the estrus cycle) ran a laboratory. In a stroke of serendipity, Diamond’s arrival in Kansas in the fall of 1958 coincided with the time when a trio of researchers on Young’s staff—Charles Phoenix, Robert Goy, and Arnold Gerall—stood on the brink of a discovery about the sex-differentiating role of hormones that would change the science and study of sexual development forever.