Pervert or sexual libertarian?: Meet John Money, "the father of f***ology"

A trailblazing scientist and sexual libertarian, John Money's work was filled with contradictions and insight

Published January 4, 2015 1:00AM (EST)

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Excerpted from "Fuckology: Critical Essays on John Money's Diagnostic Concepts"

Dr. John Money is the Duke of Dysfunction, a man who writes about “unspeakable” human sexual problems with such dignity and care that his case histories make me feel almost normal.
-- John Waters, jacket endorsement for John Money, Gendermaps: Social Constructionism, Feminism, and Sexosophical History

The New Zealand-born, U.S.-based psychologist John Money (1921–2006) has had a singular influence on the diagnosis and treatment of (to use Money’s terms) “hermaphroditism,” “transsexualism,” and “paraphilia.” The reception of his more than five hundred articles and over forty books, as well as hundreds of neologisms including “gender” itself, has been both exceptionally significant and strikingly uneven. Whereas “gender” is now a ubiquitous, everyday term in the English-speaking world, and “lovemap” has entered the lexicon of popular psychology, some of his more outlandish coinages, concepts, and recommendations have entered neither popular nor medical currency.

Money’s widespread yet disparate uptake is explained partly by the fact that his stylistically bizarre texts were aimed at multiple audiences, most often physicians, psychiatrists, and sexologists, but sometimes anthropologists, historians, psychoanalysts, and lay readers. Money’s career was also beset by ethical controversy, exemplified by the internationally publicized case of David Reimer. Following sex reassignment in infancy under Money’s guidance, in response to a circumcision accident, Reimer’s story was held variously to show Money as humane and barbaric, naive and deceitful, a social constructionist and an anatomical determinist. Just as Money’s ideas have been characterized as either pathologizing or liberating, so too has Money’s flamboyant persona been beatified or damned. These tendencies to polarize Money and his work are both productive and symptomatic of a failure to interrogate the complexities, contradictions, and tensions in Money’s oeuvre. Therefore, a careful cross-disciplinary, multiauthored engagement with Money’s work and its deployment is overdue.

For example, sufficiently close attention has not hitherto been paid to Money’s fears (which were probably understandable given the historico-political context of his work during the 1950s) that sexology could be dismissed as a prurient, if not altogether “perverse” practice, much as its forerunners in the nineteenth century had been demonized by many doctors and clerics. It is in this light that we understand Money’s constant demand that his field, for which his predecessors “could not find a name,” should be considered both a legitimate science and the natural home of taboo-busting “sex research.” The conception of a unique (nameless) scientific field—which Money argues complements other sciences such as urology, gynecology, endocrinology, and so on, and for which he suggested the name “fuckology”—functions hand in hand with Money’s fascination with a “Linnaean” taxonomic approach to human experience. A passion for creating taxonomies is evident in his coining of a plethora of diagnostic and technical terms, including “Adam Principle,” “exigency theory,” “gynemimesis,” “mindbrain,” “neurocognitional,” “normophilia,” “phylism,” “troopbondance,” and a whole range of paraphilias, such as “apotemnophilia,” “autassassinophilia,” and “autonepiophilia,” to give only a sample of those at the beginning of the alphabet. It is, then, somewhat ironic that Money claimed inspiration from Willa Cather and Ernest Hemingway for their “economy of words and uncluttered style.”

Connecting Money’s aspiration to scientificity and his tendency to taxonomic invention is his view of both “gender” and the “lovemap” as kinds of “native language.” In one paper from 1982, Money wrote: “For sexological research the development of . . . an analytic vocabulary is not simply an ideal, but an absolute necessity, for without it erotosexual practice cannot be properly subdivided and reduced to identifiable units for investigation in research.” And, in the same paper, he could not resist adding, after a mention of “every behavioral unit,” a parenthetical nascent term for this concept: “(behavioron).” For Money then, as we will explore in this book, the acquisition of a language about sex was an object of study, a scientific method, and a master metaphor, all at once.

The title of this book, Fuckology, is a reappropriation of a neologism that Money proposed for introduction into scholarly, clinical, and lay discourse. He wrote in 1988 of the need for “a word like fuckology, used in everyday, vernacular English to signify the science of what it is that people actually do under the cover of polite expressions like making love or having sex.” Although this book’s critical remit is wider than Money’s contribution to the study of sexual orientations and practices, and while the book certainly does not seek to further Money’s agenda by using “fuckology” as a candid descriptor in the way that he suggests is possible, the term “fuckology,” used against the grain, strikes us as extraordinarily appropriate shorthand to describe a method of queering—or fucking with—sexology, and with the logic of scientificity in which it is invested. In particular, we are aware of, and seek precisely to exploit, the readerly discomfort and uncertainty potentially engendered by the use of this nonacademic vocabulary (the sort of vocabulary that Money himself might have called “the terminology of the barnyard”). Money often used sexualized rather than clinical terms for sexual activities, such as the verbs “to quim” and “to swive,” which he derived from vernacular seventeenth century terms for genitalia, and which were intended by Money to describe “the active-assertive practice of the female and the male, respectively, in penovaginal copulation.” He seems to have understood such linguistic misdemeanors as acts of daring resistance to an imagined censorious “sex police,” albeit in a gesture that risked undermining his claims made elsewhere for the scientific seriousness of this work; Money was aware as early as 1955 that neologisms could be regarded as “perverse technical jargon.” Putting aside our various reservations about Money’s intentions in introducing neologisms such as these, we find the term “fuckology” productive insofar as it suggests resistance to a unified theory of Money. Further, “fuckology” disrupts the domestication of Money’s peculiar oeuvre as a transient moment along a path to ever more scientific and humane knowledge of “hermaphroditism,” “transsexualism,” and “paraphilia.”

Being Dr. Money

As alluded to above, much of the available commentary on John Money casts him as either a god or a monster. While this book eschews a psychologizing “man and his works” approach to Money’s contribution, in favor of an interrogation of his influences and contexts in producing and transforming the diagnostic concepts with which he worked, it will be necessary to examine the associations that accrue to the name “John Money” in the course of his career, and in the posthumous reception of his work. Moreover, while our book seeks to reach conclusions about Money’s contributions to sexology without adhering to the personal loyalties and enmities that led to his deification/demonization, it would be erroneous to ignore the ethically and politically charged circumstances and environment that produced such work. To this end, we offer the following short biographical sketch.

John Money was born on July 8, 1921, in Morrinsville, New Zealand, to an Australian father and an English mother. He completed high school early and went on to study at Victoria University, Wellington. In 1944, he graduated with a teacher’s certificate and a double master’s degree in education and philosophy/psychology. He took up an appointment as a junior lecturer in the psychology department at the University of Otago in Dunedin, where he worked for three years. Because, at that time, it was not possible to read for a doctorate in psychology in New Zealand, Money emigrated to the United States in 1947, working as a psychology resident in a Pittsburgh hospital before being accepted into a PhD program at Harvard University in the Department of Social Relations. He graduated in 1952 having produced a dissertation titled “Hermaphroditism: An Inquiry into the Nature of a Human Paradox.”13 Money did not train as a medical doctor, surgeon, or psychiatrist, as has sometimes been assumed.

His clinical work with intersex individuals began before he had even completed his doctorate, initially at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and subsequently at the Johns Hopkins Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children. Money moved to Johns Hopkins University in 1951 with his mentor, the psychologist and physician Joan Hampson. Shortly afterward, he met Lawson Wilkins, MD, influential head of the Clinic for Pediatric Endocrinology at Johns Hopkins. Wilkins allowed Money to interview patients at the clinic for his doctoral research, and once the research was completed, Money continued to work under Wilkins, in close collaboration with Joan Hampson and her husband John (also a psychologist and physician). Together they composed what Money would later call the “Psychohormonal Research Unit,” affiliated with both the Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry. The import of the work by Money and the Hampsons in shaping protocols for intersex treatment cannot be overstated. Yet, despite their pioneering collaboration, Money and John Hampson “were no longer on speaking terms” by 1957. The definitive reason for this rift is not given in any published literature on Money that we have been able to find.

By the mid-1960s, Money’s interest had turned to transsexualism and the possibility of surgical treatment: between 1964 and 1967 he was part of a research team led by Harry Benjamin (and including Ruth Rae Doorbar, Richard Green, Henry Guze, Herbert Kupperman, Wardell Pomeroy, and Leo Wollman), whose study of transsexualism was funded by the Erickson Educational  Foundation. The latter had been established in 1964 by the wealthy trans man and patient of Benjamin’s, Reed Erickson. Research undertaken by the group was integral to the official establishment of the Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic (in July 1966) as well as to the formation of the Harry Benjamin Foundation (in 1967). Moreover, according to Benjamin, Money “was probably more responsible than any other individual for the decision that such an august institution as Johns Hopkins Hospital would . . . endorse sex-altering surgery in suitable subjects,” a practice for which, at the time, there was little support among medical professionals. Money also served on the advisory board of the Harry Benjamin Foundation, which regularly referred patients to Hopkins, ensuring a client base for the treatments he was developing. However, Money later expressed disappointment that the Gender Identity Clinic, whose name he professed to have inspired, did not “become a center for manifold syndromes related to gender identity,” and remained focused on transsexualism until its closure in 1979.

In the 1980s and 1990s, John Money wrote widely about the paraphilia diagnosis and his advocacy for the use of antiandrogen medication in the treatment of both sex offenders and, controversially, other “paraphiles” with nonoffending behavior. In a 1987 paper, Money claimed that he had been studying the use of the drug Depo-Provera (medroxyprogesterone acetate) with sex offenders at Johns Hopkins since as early as 1966, at which time the drug had not been approved for that usage. The uptake of his combination of drug therapy and “talking therapy” throughout the United States and Europe was intermittent, but not insignificant. Additionally, Money’s interventions in debates about pedophilia, arguing that there is a clinical distinction to be drawn between “affectional pedophilia” and “sadistic pedophilia,” and appearing ambivalently supportive of elements of the propedophilia movement, led controversy to dog his reputation, a taint on his name that would become indelible once the outcome of the Reimer case was a matter of public knowledge. David Reimer (pseudonymously at first) spoke publicly in 1997 about his surgery and sexological treatment with Money; John Colapinto published his critical book on the case in 2000; and Reimer ended his own life in 2004. Money remained at Johns Hopkins for the duration of his career, supported by numerous grants from organizations including the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. In his final years, a somewhat discredited Money suffered from progressive dementia. He died in 2006, of causes related to his Parkinson’s disease, one day before his eighty-fifth birthday.

The bare facts of his life and work aside, what can be learned of John Money’s biography is partial and inevitably biased. The range of sources that, for different purposes, describe his personality and career, are heavily colored by the tastes and political affiliations of the given author. For example, few biographical sources make mention of Money’s marriage in the 1950s unless to lead us to infer from its failure something about his character. Thus, in his critical journalistic account of the Reimer case, Colapinto writes: “As an adult, Money would forever avoid the role of ‘man of the household.’ After one brief marriage ended in divorce in the early 1950s, he never remarried and has never had children.” It would be easier to feel indignation on Money’s behalf for this implicit accusation that he was not a “mature” “responsible” man, based on a normative notion of the functional, (re)productive citizen, were Money himself not responsible for producing similar charges about patients, especially paraphiliacs.

Indeed, it is striking that the accusations of “perversion” leveled at Money by his detractors, for his ambivalence to pedophilia and his own unconventional sexual behaviors, are not dissimilar to some of Money’s more scathing observations regarding what he deemed inappropriate sexual behaviors (while writing approvingly of those activities he is known to have enjoyed, including nudism and group sex, practiced in the libertarian environment of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality’s [SSSS] gatherings). Thus it is unhelpful to see Money entirely as either a misunderstood defender of sexuality in all its forms or as the victim of deliberate misinformation. He advocated both “the study of human sexuality in its recreational as compared with its purely procreational function,” in which the SSSS led the way, Money claimed, and the teaching of children that “sex differences are primarily defined by the reproductive capacity of the sex organs.” Money never synthesized such views. Consequently, the uneven reception of his work reflects a certain truth about its character as an “ideological octopus” (as one of us has written elsewhere), appealing in different ways to conservative and progressive commentators alike. We argue that Money’s work is not so much “interactional,” contrary to what he frequently asserted, but tentacular.

Accordingly, angry responses to Money in the wake of Colapinto’s revelations about the Reimer case issued from both those apparently vindicated champions of biological explanations of gender, who perceived Money’s constructionist experiment to do violence to the unassailable nature of “man” and “woman,” and from liberal social constructionists alarmed at the ethics of Money’s practice. So, in a letter to the Washington Times, Carey Roberts (described as a “writer and media analyst”) wrote that Colapinto’s biography of Reimer “revealed the psychologist to be a charlatan, tireless self-promoter and intellectual fraud.” He added that “the feminist dogma that gender is socially constructed remains widespread in our society. Boys receive constant messages they should act more like girls. David Reimer’s sad story should cause us to reconsider our mass experiment in gender re-education.” In politically contrasting terms, but revealing equal vilification for Money, Mark Cochrane wrote in the Vancouver Sun that “neo-Darwinist explanations for gender identity reinforce a rigidity of roles and expectations, and they can be used to justify anything, from rape to an array of social and domestic inequities. . . . For these reasons, and despite the existence of monsters such as Dr. Money, the ‘nature’ side of the debate continues to produce a more dangerous rhetoric. Unfortunately, Colapinto’s book may play into that.” The pro-constructionist writer refers to Money using an othering, teratological label in order to exculpate the “nurture” “side” of the debate from being tainted by association. And, to neatly complete this discursive circle, following the announcement of Reimer’s death, David Jones would write in the British Daily Mail, espousing the view of gender that one would most readily associate with that newspaper, “Arrogant to the last, Dr Money still refuses to acknowledge that the cruel human experiment he devised to confirm his flawed ideology has been a monstrous failure.” While disagreeing with Cochrane about the value of the “ideology” in question, he repeats the familiar vocabulary of monstrosity to apply, albeit indirectly in this syntactic construction, to John Money.

To Money’s defenders and friends, however, all such criticisms are liable to be interpreted as misrepresentations of Money’s noble project, or attempts to scapegoat a brave pioneer whose ideas could be “simply too intellectually demanding to pursue.” Anke Ehrhardt, whose doctoral research took place at Money’s Psychohormonal Research Unit, writes in her obituary of Money that “it was . . . regrettable that [over the last decade] John Money’s work was often globally criticized and rejected and that he as a person was unjustly scapegoated.” She goes on:

When we talked about the attacks [on his reputation, etc.], I tried to reassure him that he would share the fate of many truly pioneering giants in science, namely, that we were experiencing a swinging of a pendulum that ultimately would swing back and that his work would find the proper place in history. Indeed, the pendulum has already started to swing back to give John Money the proper credit for his extraordinary contribution to the field of psychoendocrinology and sex research.

And Richard Green writes in his obituary of Money that “John’s last years were doubly tragic.” In addition to Money’s progressive dementia, “detractors had it appear that he set about amputating a boy’s penis so he could test his theory. He was denounced as a Dr. Mengele on Australian TV’s ‘60 Minutes.’ Newspapers that should know better, such as the New York Times, failed to provide balanced reporting.” While the “Mengele” analogy is obviously exaggerated and emotive, it is unfortunate that Green should focus on Money’s ruined reputation as the most regrettable aspect of what happened to Reimer.

In a celebratory piece written to mark Money’s seventieth birthday, “For the Sake of Money,” Paul R. Abramson describes Money as “arguably the most prominent (and prolific) sex researcher of our day.” He goes on: “For nearly forty years, John has produced an extraordinarily impressive scholarly record, on topics ranging from gender identity and gender role to sexual orientation and the freedom of sexual expression. Perhaps even more important, however, have been his theoretical contributions, which utilize an inter disciplinary perspective in conceptualizing the development and expression of human sexual behavior.” Abramson’s claim that interdisciplinarity is central to Money’s method is an important one, and one deserving of interrogation. Money was obviously fascinated by, and to some extent versed in, numerous and diverse scholarly and medical fields. However, his style can appear to disavow the very character of interdisciplinary work: the potential for interdisciplinarity to relativize the truth content of a given disciplinary stance by offering insights from another body of thought or method is never fulfilled in Money’s work. He is a relentlessly dogmatic writer. Although, as we shall explore, Money occupies starkly different positions with regard to, for example, the import of nature and nurture, neural and social factors, at different stages in his career and sometimes within individual publications, Money seeks at every point in his oeuvre to argue for the rigor and definitional nature of his statements as they stand at that moment. This is especially apparent in the following claims about the influence of hormones on gender and sexuality.

In 1961, Money asserted that “the sex hormones, it appears, have no direct effect on the direction or content of erotic inclination [which, for Money, was an aspect of gender] in the human species. These are assumed to be experientially determined.” Four years afterward, the biologist Milton Diamond published a critical review of work by Money and the Hampsons, which included a counterclaim that “when we consider prenatal as well as postnatal existence, hormones may be regarded as directional as well as activational; and at birth the individual may be considered to have been neurally pre disposed by genetic and hormonal means toward [identification as] one sex.” In 1971, Money called Diamond’s paper “a rather ill-considered critique” by “an inexperienced student of biology.” Yet, two years later, in a paper that did not cite Diamond, Money claimed that research from as far back as the late 1950s showed that “fetal gonadal hormones . . . have an influence on neural pathways in the brain.” He added, “If I had said that even as recently as 10 years ago, people would be wanting to put me away. To imagine that fetal gonadal hormones could have anything to do with brain pathways!” Notwithstanding this apparent convergence with Diamond’s position, Money continued in subsequent decades to refer to the former’s 1965 paper as “a lengthy polemic.” To admit of the potential of being wrong, or to settle for the productive tension of ambiguity, is not a feature of Money’s rhetorical range, even if, as the essays in this book will show, Money’s claims are often brazenly inconsistent. If Abramson is right, though, that Money is an eminently interdisciplinary thinker, it makes the project of this book all the more urgent and justifies its methodological sweep, because we approach Money’s texts from outside the disciplines in which he wrote, and from a range of perspectives, in order precisely to evaluate them from the multiple and intersecting viewpoints of history, critical and ethical theory, gender/sexuality studies, and textual analysis.

Excerpted from "Fuckology: Critical Essays on John Money's Diagnostic Concepts" by Lisa Downing, Iain Morland and Nikki Sullivan. Published by the University of Chicago Press. Copyright 2015 by the University of Chicago. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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