Laura Masters, her story

From:    Laura Masters
Subject: Laura's Story


Note: I have added comments to this
transcript, where the story either erred
or failed to make a point. ...Laura

Headline  : OUTCAST
Catch line: The cost of coming out of
				the closet for a Niagara
				area transsexual was her
				family, friends, and job.

Story by: Barbara Shecter
			 (Standard Staff)

By strict legal definition, Laura
Masters is still a male.  She has not
yet undergone sex-change surgery, or
legally changed her name.  For several
years she has been living as a woman.
For the sake of clarity, no male
referrences are used in connection with
her in this story.

Laura Masters remembers being hit
between the shoulder blades and knocked
to the ground as she walked through
Montebello Park in a skirt and high

She tells of being kicked repeatedly to
taunts of "Queer" and "Faggot".

It is typical of the abuse Laura says
she faced after accpeting six years ago
that she is a transsexual.

Medical professionals say about one in
every 35,000 people is transsexual, a
person who "consistently and
presistently wants to be the other sex."
For Laura 39, that hasn't been easy.

Her Story is one of a boy who grew up in
Niagara, got married and fathered a
daughter who is now 11 years old.

Eventually, the marriage disintegrated
and the father was unable to ignore a
nagging belief held for more than 30
years:  though born with the anatomy of
a male, Laura has always felt she was a

"You try and deny it and analyse it and
rationalize it, and all it does is build
up pressure" because nothing really
explains the feeling that you were born
in the wrong body, she said recently.

"I hated myself for what I knew abut

But after admitting her situation in
1985, at least to herself, Laura began
preparations for facing the rest of the

Over the next three years she lost
weight and took hormones to create a
female bustline.  At home she began to
experiment with make-up and women's
clothes, and purposely raised the pitch
of her voice to sound like a woman.

But the rest of her world --bosses
doctors, family, even friends-- rejected
her.  They had known her as a man.
They expected her to always be man, to
act like a man, and dress like a man.

The failure to be accepted and treated
fairly, "closeted" Laura for more than a
year in the self-imposed prison of her
downtown St. Catharines apartment where
she communicated with the outside world
through her computer and the telephone.

In the last year, she gained about 100
pounds because of the hormones and a
steady diet of fast-food that could be
ordered to her bachelor apartment.

Laura says being transsexual ultimately
cost her her job as a computer
programmer.  She also feels that her
medical problems have been

A claim she has filed against Hotel Dieu
Hospital is being considered for
investigation by the Ontario Human
Rights Commission.

The Human Rights claim stems from June
1987 when Laura went to the emergency
ward suffering from pain in her back,
abdomen, and testicles which had shrunk
because of the hormones.  This enabled
her to push them up into her body to
give her a more female apearance in

According to hospital records obtained
by Laura, she first saw Dr. Donald
Steele, who instructed her to take
previously prescribed pain killers.

The next day she returned to the
emergency ward and was seen by Dr. J.A.
Shultz, who noted the pain was
"obviously faked".  He diagnosed a
"personality disorder".

A few days later Laura was admitted to
St. Catharines General Hospital for a
week and treated for the back pain.

Six months later the atrophied testicles
were surgically removed by Hamilton
urologist Dr. William Orovan.

"This surgery was the right thing to for
this patient", he said recently.  "The
testicles were removed because of
chronic pain".

Dr. Orovan described the surgery as
"minor" and said while some people
choose to go to Hamilton for the
procedure, it has a "very, very low
risk" in a young, otherwise healthy
patient like Laura.

She was unable to obtain the surgery in
St. Catharines, where local doctors
prescribed pain-killers and advised her
to leave her testicles in their natural
position.  In Laura's opinion they were
trying to "cure" her by telling her to
live as a man.

Hotel Dieu executive director Frank
Vetrano refuses to comment on the
incident.  He said it is hospital policy
not to discuss individual patients,
although Laura gave written permission
for officials to discuss her case with
The Standard.

In an earlier written statement, Hotel
Dieu officials said it is not hospital
policy to conduct "sex-reassignment
surgical procedures".

Laura says she is telling her story in a
bid to shelter other transsexuals from
the brunt of society's attitudes that
she has faced over more than 30 years in
Niagara.  She said her experiences have
forced her to become an advocate of
transsexual rights.

"Most transsexuals are destroyed by the
people they need most.  Somebody has to
do something about this.  It just can't
be allowed to go on."

Laura says she spent most of her life
denying what she considers her true
gender, and was only four years old when
she realized she wasn't like the other
kids in her rural home between Grimsby
and Smithville.

Her earliest memories are of trying on
any "girl clothes" she could find.  I
thought by dressing like a girl (people)
would treat me like a girl.  Instead
they treated me like a freak."

Laura remembers neighbours who never
came to the family's home after they
discovered the 12-year-old wearing
earrings and high heels while helping to
prepare dinner.

That kind of reaction led Laura to bury
her feelings for years.

In her 20s, Laura committed the ultimate
act of denial -- she got married.

But the tormenting self-deception
couldn't last for long.

She remembers shaking with fear on the
day in 1987 when she told her Cambridge-
based boss about her transsexuality and
her eventual plans to have sex-change

A few days later, a new employment
contract removed her from company
benifits and stated she could continue
to work for the office services company
provided she dressed like "other male

The former employer told The Standard
that Laura's half-male half-female
appearance involving earrings and nail
polish was "confusing" to his customers.
But Laura says she only wore the same
earrings and nail polish that she'd worn
for her original job interview.

NOTE:  The above paragraph contains a
factual error, since at no time did I
expose any customer to any confusing
gender images.  I always presented a
completely masculine image while
employed by this company... Laura

Her job changed from repairing office
equipment at customer's businesses to
fixing equipment taken to the company's
Mississauga headquarters.

Two months later Laura was told there
was no more in-shop work to do, and her
job was terminated.

Over the next year, she and her former
boss created a new company but the
venture failed, leaving her unemployed.

At about the same time, all contact was
lost with her daughter after Laura told
the little girl about her plans to live
the rest of her life as a woman.

Laura's voice cracks when she talks about
the 11 year marriage -- one of several
relationships with women -- and the
reaction to Laura's 1987 decision to
thell their daughter of her

Her wife's family "threw me into the
queer barrel" she said adding that while
she abhors the term "queer" many people
consider transsexuals to be extreme
homosexuals -- so homosexual that they
actually want to become the other sex.

Laura said she has always felt she was a
woman, and so she considers her
attraction to men to be hetrosexual.

But to avoid confusion she has remained
celibate for more than 10 years, she

Her ex-wife knew about Laura's desire to
dress in woman's clothes.  But the
spouse's reaction to Laura telling their
daughter about her transsexuality is
etched in Laura's memory.

"She was like a statue.  She just froze
solid.  You could see every muscle in
her body was tight."

Laura arranged for counselling to help
the then seven-year-old daughter adjust,
but said the little girl's attitude was
heavily influenced by her mother's rage.

When the counselor asked the child if
she was uncomfortable with her father,
she said yes.  This ended Laura's
contact with her daughter.

After losing her daughter and her job.
Laura cancelled an appointment she had
made with the Clarke Institute of
Psychiatry in Toronto.  Although her St.
Catharines psychiatrist, Dr. Peter
Grant, diagnosed her as transsexual, she
felt the Clarke's demands before
granting OHIP-covered sex change surgery
were too damaging.

The Clarke uses a two year test to
screen out people who would not benefit
from the plastic surgery, said
psychiatrist Dr. Robert Dickey.

A person must live in public as a member
of the opposite sex for a year before
getting hormones.  During this year and
the next year, when hormones are
prescribed, the applicant must have a
full time job or be enrolled full time
as a student.

Although Dr. Dickey said cross-dressing
for a year without the aid of hormones
can be difficult, even for a true
transsexual, this requirement "seperates
people who are truly motivated from
people who have second thoughts"

This attutude upsets Laura, who suffered
her greatest losses -- her child and
career -- before even trying to meet the
Clarke's requirement that she arrive at
work one day dressed as a woman, insist
on using the women's washroom, and tell
co-workers to call her by her new female

NOTE: Do I need to expand on the results
of such a foolish requirement?  Most of
us end up unable to pass the test
because we are out of work...Laura

"I basically blew up my whole life"
preparing for the test, she said.

"My life was trashed before I even got

She says the Clarke Institute's
selection process is really "reverse
selecting" by granting surgery only to
people with enough bravado and typically
masculine attributes to take the abuse
heaped on them.

"They're exposing a man in a dress to
public ridicule", she said.

Leonard Clemenson, clinical director of
the Clarke's Gender Identity Clinic,
agrees that there is a resk involved in
this kind of exposure.

"There are always going to be people who
want to punch your lights out", he

But although the clinic is the only
alternative for transsexuals in Canada
who can't afford the $6,000 to $12,000
opertation, he said the Real Life Test
is necessary because only about seven of
the roughly 47 people who come to the
Clarke each year go through with the

NOTE: Ask yourself what happens to the
other 40!  The Clarke admits 85% of
their clients simply vanish on
them.  Most end up living as "outcasts"
on welfare and alone...Laura

"If somebody were to have surgery on
demand ... there would be a lot more
people regretting the surgery", he said.

"If that's control, I accept that"

Although Laura hasn't been assesed by
the institute, she said the institute
has little understanding of the people
it deals with because she spent the
worst months of her life trying to
satisfy their requirements.

The Real Life Test "sets up all the
right conditions for us to be
discriminated against totally -- because
it causes us to lay our lives on the
table", she said, adding that in her
case, this led to serious abuse.

Although the reasons for transseuxalism
are not clear, the institute estimates
that one in every 35,000 people is
transsexual.  This means there are very
few transsexuals in St. Catharines, or
the rest of Niagara.

Laura says she's known other
transsexuals who have left the region in
hope of finding more understanding

"When faced with the obstacles
encounterd in the Niagara Region they
move to other cities in search of the
help they need, leaving only one or two
in the area at any one time.", she said.

The small numbers lead to a lack of
understanding and acceptance, said Dr.
Dickey.  He said the absence of a
traceable physical or genetic cause
means even the medical world isn't sure
where to place the transsexual

Laura says her life has been one long
cycle of attempts to come out of the
closet, followed by episodes of being
driven even further into it by the
reactions of people around her.

"The dominant feature in my life is
lonliness", she said.

"I spent many years being prejudiced
against myself"

All she thought about was trying to make
this "horrid thing" go away.

But harder than facing her own feelings
has been facing the reaction of others,
she said.  Some of the most damaging
experiences have been when people seemed
willing to help or even befriend her,
and then disappeared.

As recently as a month ago, one such
friend agreed to be interviewed about
his "open acceptance" of Laura.

He had invited her to his home and
introduced her to his children, ages
four and six.  He was even talking about
fixing up a private room in his basement
so Laura could pay less rent while
helping with his mortgage payments.

But within a few weeks, he had backed
out of the agreement and their
friendship, giving little explaination
for his sudden abandonment.

Although Laura was hurt, she wasn't
really surprised.  It was just another
example of the fleeting commitment some
people seem willing to give her.

She tells of doctors who claimed to be
liberal-minded and then prescribed
hormones at such low doses that they had
no effect, and counselors who claimed
"professional detachment" when she asked
them to be seen in public with her.

"I know of transsexauls who have
actually committed suicide because
nobody would be their friend.  Its an
extremely desperate and misunderstood
life", she said.


Any typos are strictly my own.

NOTE: I have added comments where the
article has erred or failed to make a

Catchline: After painful years Laura
			  accepts her transsexuality

OCTOBER 15,1954

Hurricane Hazel is raging outside.  A
mother is crouched in the cellar trying
to comfort her three year old son.  "You
are my brave little man", she says.
"I'm not a man", he answers, "I'm a

ST. CATHARINES 1991, The little boy in
the basement is all grown up now and
after years of confusion and denial, she
has come to terms with what she is.

"I was born a transsexual.  I know
this", says Laura Masters 39, "Its been
there all my life".

Ten years ago, Laura was a man who was
living a lie.  He was married.  He had a
daughter.  He liked to dress secretly in
women's clothing.  He thought he was a
transvestite.  He had crushes on other

"I was a tough guy", she says.  "I
artificially lowered my voice.  I put on
weight so I'd be less feminine.  I
became a macho dude and learned all the
false behaviour.  Then I just couldn't
do it anymore."

Six years ago, Laura finally accepted
what the three-year-old boy knew -- that
despite the male genitalia, her gender
was female.

She decided to take steps to come out of
the closet.  But the slow transformation
from macho dude to woman has been

Her marriage collapsed.  In retrospect,
she believes she genuinely loved her
wife during their eight-year-marriage,
but the bond was more sisterly than
anything else.

Her wife rejects her now.  She hasn't
seen her child in three years.  She lost
her job and her friends.

She's been severly beaten in a park by
thugs who called her a "lesbian dyke"
and been condemned as a "faggot" by
others.  She's been punched in the face
by a drunk at a party, and attacked on
the street.

She says she has been refused treatment
by doctors and suffered months of
needless pain simply because she is
transsexual.  That complaint has gone
before the Ontario Human Rights
Commission.  Eventually she had surgery
to remove her testes which had become
atrophied and painfull, a problem
sometimes associated with transsexuals.

The Gender Identity Clinic of the Clarke
Institute of Psychiatry in Toronto
defines transsexuals as an extreme form
of Gender Dysphoria which refers to
discontent with one's biological sex,
the desire to posess the body of the
opposite sex and be regarded as a member
of the opposite sex.

Transsexuals believe they suffer from a
gender-sex mismatch.  The cure is a
sex-change operation, but before the
Clarke will approve it, the transsexual
must agree to a real-life test that can
take years and in Laura's view shatter

The test requires a patient to live as a
member of the opposite sex for a year.
During that year, he-she is expected to
work, go to school or enroll in a job
retraining program.  He-she must pick a
new name to reflect the chosen gender
and have the name change made on
identifying documents.

After a year, patients are re-evaluated
and if they are found to be stable they
are placed on the appropriate horomone

For men becoming women the hormones
result in mild ot moderate breast
enlargement, redistributed body fat, a
slight reduction in body hair and a
decreased sex drive.  For women becoming
men, the hormone therapy results in
voice changes to the male range,
increase in body and facial hair, and
redistributed body fat in the male

After at least two years in the
cross-gender role, patients are
re-evaluatied for sex-change surgery.
The operation must be performed in
Europe at approved clinics in order to
be funded through public health
insurance.  Transsexuals who can afford
to pay the price can have the operation
done at private clinics.

NOTE: The OHIP covered surgery will
require at least $15,000 up front since
we are expected to pay our own travel
and hotel expenses.  We also have to pay
cash for the surgery.  OHIP
re-embursement is not available until
after we return to Ontario.  It is
actually cheaper and easier to go the
Private Clinic route....Laura.

Dr. Robert Dickey, a psychiatrist at the
Clarke's gender identity clinic, said
gender identity clinics in Europe also
have stringent real-life test

A few years ago Laura began the process
she hoped would lead to a sex-change

She began coming out of the closet,
wearing women's clothing at home and
assuming the female role as often as she
could.  Once she accepted she was
transsexual she went to doctors and
counselors seeking help and began
allowing a few friends to see her in the
female role.

She found herself the target of bigotry.

She began taking the hormone therapy and
going out in public as a female.  Five
years ago she wrote in her journal
"Laura masters her fate" and found her
new name.

The next requirement was working as a
female.  She informed her boss that she
was transsexual.  The confidential
conversation quickly became the subject
of gossip.  Her co-workers became
increasingly intolerant, she says "The
way they treated me changed so

After she left that job, she was unable
to get another.

As she bagan looking more feminine her
friends showed less acceptance of  her
and she found herself facing isolation,
depression and failure in not meeting
the criteria for the "Real-Life Test".

Dr. Dickey said the test is very
difficult, "But changing one's
anotomical sex is not all that easy", he

He estimates 33 per cent of those who
embark on the real-life test eventually
pass, although it may take five to ten
years and require job changes.  Dr.
Dickey said the percentage of people who
can't get a job because of their
transsexuality alone is negligible.

NOTE: Almost every Canadian transsexual
I know is on Welfare or working in their
old gender role.  In all my contacts I
have only found three who are working in
their new-gender roles... Laura

"Its a test of the motivation of the
individual, of personal stability, and
of the diagnosis itself", he said.
While he said a few patients experience
a lot of difficulty, especially if they
have trouble passing for the opposite
sex, "If they are truly transsexual,
they eventually meet the criteria."

He said the major factor that determines
if an individual will be happier
following sex-change surgery is his or
her ability to pass the real-life test.

Laura says she knows 10 transsexuals who
have attempted suicide and two who have
succeeded.  She admits she was suicidal
herself but was helped by a Lutheran
minister who offered her "incredible
guidance and acceptance"

"I know people who have killed
themselves because they couldn't pass
the test," she says.  "Its like taking a
very masculine looking individual and
sending that person to work in a dress.
What's going to happen to that person?
They become a subject of public

She said individuals must reveal their
genital sex on some documents in order
to get health or dental benifits at
their place of employment.  "They can't
pass the real life test unless they are
working and they can't get a job because
they have to reveal their genital sex to
their employer.  It's instant

But Dr. Dickey says there are employers
who accept transsexuals.  And employers
do approach the clinic for assistance in
understanding their transsexual
employees.  Patients "have to be able to
just demonstrate they can go out and
fulfill a self supporting function in
society", he said.

But there are those like Laura show
simply give up on the real-life test and
having the surgery.

In this story Laura is referred to as
"She" because that is what she appears
to be.  Her contours are feminine
although she is overweight from the
hormones and inactivity.  She sounds
like a woman, but if she tries she can
drop her voice a few octaves to sound
like a man.  Her welfare cheques are
made out to her male name.  When she
takes them to the bank, she pretends to
be the wife to avoid problems with the
bank tellers.

Laura is something of a computer wizard
who can design, program and repair
computers and do system analysis.  But
she can't find an employer who will
accept her.  She spends much of her time
communicating with others on her
computer and says only four people have
crossed the threshold of her tiny
apartment in the past two years.

"I spent the first half of 1990 without
talking to a single person." she says.

Laura decided to go public with her
story to fight bigotry and
misconceptions about transsexuals.  She
would like the real-life test to be
redesigned to offer more support to
transsexuals in transition and wants
employers, doctors and others to treat
transsexuals as human beings.

Laura believes she has nothing more to
lose. She is trapped between genders
with no job, no friends, no contact with
family and no support.  "Today I have
given up on the suburban dream --- a
house, a husband, a job and adopted
children," she says.