Mamamia's Extraordinary Stories series deep dives into the kind of tales you will keep thinking about long after you've read them. From unexplained mysteries to moments that have changed history, Extraordinary Stories will take you down the rabbit hole and make you never want to leave.
Warning: The following mentions suicide, which may be triggering for some readers.
For years, it was known in the medical community only as the "John/Joan" case, a hugely controversial experiment in psychology, anthropology, neuroendocrinology and medicine.
Articles were published in academic journals and the press, making the Canadian child at its centre one of the most famous patients in modern medicine. Yet it was years before that child even knew the experiment had taken place, and longer still before he was able to share the real story.
It all started with a medical accident.
The true story of the "John/Joan" case.
In April 1966, eight-month-old identical twins, Bruce and Brian Reimer, underwent a circumcision to treat phimosis, a condition which prevents the foreskin from retracting. Bruce's procedure failed. He suffered extensive damage to his penis caused by a cauterising needle, a tissue-burning device rarely used during circumcision.
Concerned for his future physical and psychological health, the child's parents sought the advice of psychologist Dr John Money at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital in the US state of Maryland. Dr Money had developed a reputation as a pioneer of gender psychology and sexual behaviour through his work with intersex patients.
He was among the first to distinguish gender identity from biology, and advocate for the theory that gender is a social construct.