John or Joan?

The Politics of Gender

Three decades ago it seemed a sensible thing to do: After a botched operation destroyed a baby’s genitals, his parents accepted doctors’ advice to turn little "John" into little "Joan." The baby was given sex-reassignment surgery and hormone treatments. The parents were reassured that the child would adjust to a new identity as a female.

But it turns out the doctors were dead wrong.

Over the years, the case of little Joan was hailed as proof that babies are born "gender neutral"—that major gender differences are assigned, not by our genes, but by our environment. Recently, however, doctors did a follow-up study—and discovered that the sex reassignment had been a complete failure.

Joan’s tragic story is told by sexologist Milton Diamond and psychiatrist Keith Sigmundson in a recent issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. The doctors report that from the very beginning, Joan rejected her new identity. When dressed in frilly clothes as a toddler, Joan yanked them off. As she grew older, Joan preferred playing with toy trucks and guns. She even tried to go to the bathroom standing up.


By the time she hit adolescence, a confused Joan threatened suicide. It was only then that her father told Joan the shocking truth: She had been born a boy.

Joan underwent reconstructive surgery and was changed back into a male. Today, Joan—now John again—is happily married and the father of three adopted children.

John has largely overcome his childhood trauma. But why did the doctors perform this radical surgery in the first place? As columnist John Leo explains, "It was a chance to prove a rising academic and feminist theory about gender."

The doctor in the baby’s case was John Money, a psychologist who championed the feminist dogma that nearly all gender differences are determined by culture, not biology. For years feminists have argued that distinctions between men and women are not real—that they are merely social constructs created by men in order to oppress women.

But Scripture teaches that basic gender differences are part of the way we are created. God created us male and female—in His image. Not only are masculinity and femininity at the very core of who we are, they’re central even to Who God is; they’re images of Him. Our sexual identity, far from being mutable, speaks to us about the immutable character of God Himself.

The latest scientific evidence backs up scriptural teachings. Diamond and Sigmundson say there is no known case where "a 46-chromosome, XY male... has ever... fully accepted an imposed life" as a female.

But the facts are not stopping the doctors. According to Newsweek, "every month, dozens of sexually ambiguous newborns get a ‘gender assignment’... and a surgical operation to confirm it."

How tragic that children’s lives are being destroyed in the interest of supporting an ideology.

That same ideology is used to argue for a host of feminist causes, like putting women into combat. When you hear these arguments, tell people about the boy who became a living object lesson that feminist ideology is wrong.

That God created us male and female.