With the Auckland Arts Festival opening tonight YOUR EX takes an in-depth look at some of the festival’s many highlights!

Inspired by the famous medical case of the Reimer twins, Carly Wijs’ latest play BOY will debut to Kiwi audiences at Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki Auckland Arts Festival. BOY revolves around the story of a circumcision gone wrong that ultimately leads Bruce (based on David Reimer) to be raised as Brenda on the recommendation of controversial New Zealand-born doctor John Money. Internationally acclaimed playwright Carly Wijs discusses the process of sensitively telling such a heartbreaking story.

BOY is a unique tale that relates to many of the conversations being had about the queer community happening around the world. Why did you want to tell this story?


People think this is a hot topic, but ultimately, this story does not have much to do with the entire conversation that is being had within the LGBTQ+ community. It simply runs along the rim of what people consider to be a delicate topic. Our play doesn’t advocate any viewpoint; it just tells the tragic story of a family that struggled to survive in an extremely difficult circumstance.

Did you have any concerns or nervousness when writing the story about how audiences would react to it?

To be honest, yes, in the UK, but not in Sweden, Belgium or the Netherlands. In Holland, the conversations around trans topics are largely conducted between the doctor and patient. It’s not an issue politically. We have had a transgender clinic in the Netherlands since the early 1970s. I grew up with transgender people in my family. In the UK, however, the whole subject was quite politicised, and I was indeed afraid that our story would be hijacked. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

Bruces story is reminiscent of the stories of many intersex people – while not actually being an intersex story (ie: Bruce was not born with ambiguous genitalia). Were you ever tempted while writing BOY to turn it into a true intersex tale?

No, that never occurred to me. What intrigued me about this story were two things that still resonate with me today: first, it is a story of inequality in intellectual ability or class. Nowadays, we live in a high-tech world where it is becoming increasingly difficult for an increasingly large group to keep up intellectually, which has far-reaching consequences for their economic position. David Reimer’s parents were very young and not highly educated people who got caught up in an incredibly complex medical drama. That made them vulnerable when they faced doctors or Ph.D. graduates from Harvard.

Another inspiration was based on a statement by Oscar Wilde: Only the modern becomes old-fashioned.” John Money, the doctor in this story, was a very progressive sexologist and researcher in the 1960s who formed the basis of our thinking about gender. But if you look at how he interpreted gender with today’s eyes, it is really very old-fashioned. Very binary. And mainly based on nature versus nurture, because he lived in a time when nurture was everything. It was only 20 years after the Second World War when a mindset that considered nature paramount had led to Auschwitz. Basically, in the Sixties, you were considered a Nazi if you thought nature was an important factor in human behaviour. He was a child of his time. And like any child of his time, it is impossible to view your own time objectively. That’s why we tell each other stories – to stretch and test our thinking. In that respect, I admire (the Austrian philosopher) Karl Popper and his theory of falsification: It suggests that for a theory to be considered scientific, it must be able to be tested and conceivably proven false. In theatre, we are always imagining the unimaginable!

Carly Wijs.

John Money, the doctor who recommended David Reimer be raised as a girl, was a Kiwi. What did you find out about him when you were researching the play, and were stories like Davids common?

I haven’t found any other examples of a similar story. A phrase I often have in the back of my mind when writing or researching characters is: You are only as intelligent as your emotions allow you to be. I found that to be the case with John Money in extremis. He grew up in a family with an aggressive alcoholic father, whom he lost at a young age. That must have been a difficult circumstance for a sensitive child to grow up in. What saved him and allowed him to keep himself afloat was his above-average intelligence. He could transcend his circumstances, and his brilliant mind had been his most reliable tool. When you’re always the most intelligent person in the room, it’s very difficult to realise that you might not always be right. He wanted his theory to be correct so much that he maintained for a long time that his treatment of the twins was a success. While he knew that it had become a complete nightmare, the only reason you and I know about this is because the Reimer twins found out that medical books were still describing their case as a success, and with pictures and all, they decided to come forward and tell the truth.

What do you hope audiences will take away from watching BOY?

A compelling story that reveals an uncomfortable truth.

Your play Us/Them has won much critical acclaim. Do you see many similar narratives between Us/Them and BOY?

The similarity is that Us/Them is a performance about a terrorist attack on a school that was a risky story to present on a stage for a young audience. But the success we had made it clear that we found a tone in which it was possible to tackle such a difficult topic.

In the case of BOY, it seems to be about a story on gender, which, now, is a difficult topic to tackle, but it is about class and inequality and, as such, one of todays most important topics. By choosing a story that seems to be about gender, we took a risk, but like Us/Them, I think we found a gentle tone that makes it possible to tell it.

BOY runs from Thursday 14 to Sunday 17 March at The Herald Theatre as part of Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki Auckland Arts Festival. For further information and to book tickets, visit