Adventures in the Archives
Money in the Archives: Collection and Recollection

Money in the Archives: Collection and Recollection

John Money’s archives pulled me in like a tractor beam. I cannot remember when or how I first learned about this controversial New Zealand-American psychologist (1921-2006) who established the Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic in 1966.[1] But the little I knew about Money, particularly about the infamous “John/Joan” case, was largely negative. Curious to learn more, I spent several quiet afternoons during my first year of medical school at Johns Hopkins surrounded by his papers. What could researchers learn from the materials Money had deposited with the Johns Hopkins Chesney Archives? How had he curated and annotated his own papers? How does the material reality of the archives themselves shape, enrich, or complicate current understandings of John Money as a researcher of gender and sexual identity?

Over the course of several visits, I became fascinated by the papers, especially because they revealed that John Money functioned as both an archivist and a curator. I sought to understand how Money’s conservation choices revealed something about how he thought of his own work. I wanted to see whether Money would include his more controversial work in crafting his own legacy and professional œuvre, as it would impact who is included or omitted from collective memory. After multiple long sessions in the archives, I better understood John Money as a documentarian. This, in turn, has helped me understand how Money grappled with the ethical implications of his work.

An older white man wearing glasses and a blazer.
John Money in 1996. (Courtesy Wikimedia)

John Money is heralded by scholars, historians, and physicians as one of the “great pioneers of American sexology in the last part of the 20th century” and a “pioneer in the true sense.”[2] The Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic was the first facility in the United States to perform what was then called “sex reassignment surgery,” now more commonly called gender affirming or gender confirming surgery.[3] Commonly (but erroneously) credited as the originator of the term “gender identity,” Money is also recognized as a leader in “psychosexual differentiation,” a field that he and others developed to describe the process by which gender roles, sexual orientation, and gender identity evolve.[4]

At the same time, Money’s clinical practices, especially with intersex patients, are deeply and appropriately criticized by both academics and activists. To be sure, researchers from all backgrounds – historians, medical professionals, lawyers, ethicists – are drawn to the perplexing dissonance that is Money’s legacy. Yet it is clear that much remains unexplored when it comes to John Money. Certain questions necessarily will remain unanswered, though; Money died in 2006. Nevertheless, his personal papers are a rich source of insight into this complex figure.

Getting to Know Money

Accessing Money’s materials at the Chesney is no small feat. When Money gifted his papers to the archives, he required that the collection remain closed to research during his lifetime. Upon his death, only the chief archivist (exercising sizable discretion) could grant access to the collection. Chesney’s public-facing website does not publicly advertise this fact. Unlike other personal paper collections, the Money papers don’t have a specific link to the papers, further reinforcing their restricted accessibility. It is not clear whether the two other institutional repositories of Money’s papers—the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles and the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University—are subject to similar limitations. Such information is not readily apparent to anyone looking online for information about access.[5]

After I spoke to the Chesney archivists, I better understood why Money placed several restrictions on access to his papers. Over the course of Money’s career, as news of some of his ethically questionable and even violative clinical practices became known, Money became a pariah in the medical community and to the public. When the Gender Identity Clinic closed in 1979, Money was likely uncertain how his legacy would be preserved. In that sense, the archives may have been a way to shape that legacy.

In selecting the institutions to receive his papers, Money likely conceived of scholarly repositories as places free from extramural forces that might want to erase his legacy. Perhaps Money wanted to establish a record so future researchers could evaluate his career with whatever evolved understanding of gender later developed. After all, at the time Money and his colleagues began researching at Johns Hopkins in 1951, a robust vocabulary to describe “gender roles” didn’t exist. Money later defined and developed the term in 1955.[6] Thus, Money’s building of his archives may have been an attempt to preserve what he considered to be “pioneering” work in the field of gender studies in hope that future researchers could understand its implications and impact, once understandings of gender evolved.

Money as a Recordkeeper

Money’s papers include an accumulation of texts: newspaper clippings, journal articles, letters with colleagues, fan mail, letters from critics, personal correspondences and notes, and ceremony pamphlets, just to name a few. An impression one gleans from the archives is that Money understood himself as deeply embedded in multiple networks. He situated himself as an active player in a larger scholarly dialogue regarding gender and sexual identity research. In many memos, letters, and articles, Money took particular care to circle his own name and any other names that were mentioned, thereby mapping an ever-expanding web of alliances and animosities (or sometimes both). In this way, we can understand John Money as someone committed to understanding the individuals involved in various arenas – professional, academic, social – in which his name circulated.

However, while Money may have been concerned with his position in academic circles, his lack of engagement with certain archival material reveals that he was perhaps reluctant, or even unwilling, to grapple with the ethical implications of his work. The Money archive contains a copious number of papers related to the notorious “John/Joan case,” in which Money claimed his goal was to investigate whether gender was a product of nurture or nature. Most infamously, Money conducted uninformed experimentation on patient David Reimer.[7] As an infant, Reimer underwent a poorly performed circumcision, which left him with a minimally visible penis. Following Money’s suggestions, doctors then performed another surgery to construct female-appearing genitalia. Reimer’s parents were then encouraged to raise him as a girl. During childhood, Reimer experienced intense gender dysphoria as a result of Money’s work. Later, Reimer adopted a male identity and undertook different therapies to address the physical and emotional harms that Money had inflicted on him.[8] Sadly, Reimer became severely depressed and died by suicide at age 38 in 2004.

Cover for As Nature Made Him by John Colapinto featuring a blurred photograph of a toddler in a dress.
John Colapinto reported on the “John/Joan” case for Rolling Stone in 1997 and subsequently published As Nature Made Him based on the same research. (Courtesy Wikimedia)

One curious discovery in the archive was a 1997 Rolling Stone article entitled “The True Story of John/Joan.” Notably, Money did not underline his own name in this article, even though he did so in nearly all other materials I analyzed. However, this absence of underlining in articles specifically related to the “John/Joan case” was not unique to this article. In another article written by the same Rolling Stone author about the case, Money again did not underline any part of the text, suggesting he was trying to minimize his connection to these research projects or that he had some sort of longstanding disagreement with the author.

More thorough study of the archive is necessary to understand the full extent to which Money did or did not engage with the effects of his work on members of the trans and gender diverse community. However, my initial glimpse into the collection suggests that Money did not underline his own name – a practice that otherwise defines his archive – in articles that were critical of his most notorious case. The inclusion of these articles in the archives suggests that Money may have felt obligated to keep a record of the controversies, but that he wanted to put some distance between himself and these studies.

Memory in the Archive

As I neared the final box in the John Money collection, I pulled out the program for Money’s memorial service held in 2006. The sleek white cardstock was shiny and thick. Of course, the program is not a document that John Money himself committed to the archive, but this memento performs a special function in the collection. It serves as a bridge between papers that were Money’s and the papers that are about Money. The archive itself operates as a temporal link between the time when Money controlled his own narrative and when others could posthumously shape that discourse by adding materials to the collection. The program begins with a quote from John Money: “Impressive as may be the growing body of knowledge of human psychosexual differentiation, no one concerned with research need feel like Alexander, crying for lack of new worlds to conquer,” a reference to Plutarch (or, less likely, the 1988 action movie Die Hard).[9] It seems even after his death, Money wanted to call for further investigation, his words inviting others to pick up the work he felt was incomplete.

As I walked out of the Chesney that day, I had many questions about how memory, collection, and codification of texts dictate who is remembered. I reflected on the ways that archives are a distinct tool for investigating complex historical figures. Archives have the power to connect the past and the present, melding collection and recollection.

  1. Magrath, Walker J. 2022. “The Fall of the Nation’s First Gender-Affirming Surgery Clinic.” Annals of Internal Medicine 175 (10): 1462–67. https://doi.org/10.7326/M22-1480.
  2. Bullough, Vern L. 2003. “The Contributions of John Money: A Personal View.” Journal of Sex Research 40 (3): 230–36. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224490309552186. ; Ehrhardt, Anke A. 2007. “John Money, Ph.D.” Journal of Sex Research 44 (3): 223–24. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224490701580741.
  3. Magrath, Walker J. “The Fall of the Nation’s First Gender-Affirming Surgery Clinic.”
  4. Carey, Benedict. 2006. “John William Money, 84, Sexual Identity Researcher, Dies.” The New York Times, July 11, 2006. https://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/11/us/11money.html..; Ben-Asher, Noa. 2005. “Paradoxes of Health and Equality: When a Boy Becomes a Girl.” Yale Journal of Law & Feminism 16 (275).
  5. Formally, at least according to the Online Archive of California, access to the John Money Papers at the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives is unrestricted. Online Archive of California, https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt4779q9bb/entire_text/. There is no public-facing information about access to the archives at the Kinsey Institute. See John Money Collection, Kinsey Institute, https://kinseyinstitute.org/collections/archival/john-money.php#collection
  6. Ehrhardt, Anke A. 2007. “John Money, Ph.D.” Journal of Sex Research 44 (3): 223–24. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224490701580741.; Money, J., J. G. Hampson, and J. L. Hampson. 1955. “An Examination of Some Basic Sexual Concepts: The Evidence of Human Hermaphroditism.” Bulletin of the Johns Hopkins Hospital 97 (4): 301–19.
  7. To learn more, here is a link to the Intersex Society of North America: https://isna.org/faq/reimer/
  8. Gaetano, Phil. 2017. “David Reimer and John Money Gender Reassignment Controversy: The John/Joan Case.” Embryo Project Encyclopedia, November. http://embryo.asu.edu/handle/10776/13009.
  9. Anthony Madrid, Alexander Wept, Paris Review (Mar. 19, 2020), https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2020/03/19/and-alexander-wept/ (quoting the film Die Hard (in which the villain Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman, says “When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer”).https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9wSLYfh0Wk

Aurora Grutman is a medical student at Johns Hopkins.

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