Martine Stonehouse Oral History (2016)
Martine Stonehouse is a transgender activist with a long history of engagement with the liberation movement. She begins her interview with a story of her transition, which began with a visit to the Gender Identity Clinic in 1982 and led to her coming out into her new life in 1994. This time was difficult for her as she would be misdiagnosed as a gay man, or in their words a “confused homosexual”, rather than receive the care she needed as a trans woman. Martine blames this on the doctors at the GIC, most of whom had been trained in the 1950s and thus held a very paternalistic and pathologizing approach to transgender issues. Indeed, Martine claims being aware of the fact that they were mostly interested in being able to publish research papers about patients, and thus she recalls faking a number of tests they performed of her out of spite. For example, Martine recalls a particular test where they would show patients pornographic images of different people while they had vacuum suckers attached to their genitalia in order to measure arousal from a diversity of genders and sexual practices.
These outdated ideas functioned as gatekeepers that ensured trans patients in Ontario before 1998 went through a long, rigorous, and exhausting process in order to be able to transition. Certainly, Martine was only able to begin her new life in 1994 and therefore proceed with the final paperwork to get her GCS. She recalls an uncomfortable experience she had with OHIP, as she had an affidavit letter from a lawyer that allowed her to change her name on her legal documents such as her social insurance number and driver’s licence. She remembers the OHIP office purposefully avoiding her calls, to the point of disconnecting the phones in the entire office just so she couldn’t reach them, as they refused to change the name on her health card. Eventually, she was able to get her name changed on this document, and through various means of her own she managed to get the gender marker on it changed too, something that was not possible to do in Ontario at the time without having had GCS. However, when her health card expired in 1997 and they asked for other proofs of identity, she was accused of falsifying documents and committing fraud as the gender on her health card did not match the one on other government documents. She was then taken out of the OHIP office by security and had her OHIP revoked, spending a year without health insurance. She was eventually able to get a doctor’s note explaining the situation and got her OHIP back in August, 1998. In September, she approached the GIC in order to finally get the approval for GCS, which would not happen until December of that year. On October 1st, 1998, the delisting of GCS under OHIP eventually suspended the transitions of many trans people who were already going through them, and for some like Martine this signified the beginning of an arduous activist trajectory.
After the delisting, Martine approached a number of government officials and offices to raise awareness of her case, but she couldn’t reach the most important person of all: the Minister of Health. Thus, Martine resolved to take her case to the Canadian Human Rights Review Panel, which was taking submissions in Toronto for two days. She brought forth a speech containing 30 recommendations to one of such panels in 1999, which she argues eventually became Bill 33 (which added gender identity and expression to the Ontario Human Rights Code). People from the Ontario Human Rights Commission advised her to launch a human rights case, and she was able to secure funding through CUPE who also assisted her in finding a pro-bono lawyer.
This support from CUPE came from the Local 44, as she was part of the equity committee. She talked about her situation with its members and when word got around, she gained the support of CUPE Ontario’s Pink Triangle Committee in November 1999. Also in November, she told her story and outed herself at a trustee meeting for the Toronto District School Board, which was debating its first human rights policy and was looking for public input. As a result of this work, the TDSB’s new policies released in May 2000 contained provisions for gender identity extending to both staff and students.
She recalls the political work that laid the foundation for the eventual delisting of GCS in 1998. A journey that began with the possibility of delisting in 1992 under the NDP government, this eventually galvanized as a Conservative project which materialized in 1998. Martine recalls how the province of Ontario, with Elizabeth Witmer as Minister of Health, would ignore calls from OHIP and prominent doctors to not delist coverage for GCS and ended up doing it anyways. She was able to find out this information as through her cases she was able to obtain access to government documents through a finding hearing. The provincial government became agitated at this move, and as a response decided to offer the four transgender people holding human rights cases against Ontario a chance to have their GCS as well as monetary compensation. However, they all chose to deny this offer as they weren’t after individual gains but rather collective justice.
Martine talks about her days doing activist work for the Trans Lobby Group with Susan Gapka and Rupert Raj, as well as the different activities that they would undertake. She argues that through the work of this group and its political lobbying Bill 33 eventually became a reality. She recalls knowing Rupert Raj since 1982, as they both were members of the Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Transexuals (FACT), a support group ran by Susan Huxford. Susan recalls Rupert running a separate group for trans men, as trans communities at the time were divided along binary gender lines.
She remembers finding out medical documents from the 1960s while undergoing her transition where doctors in her youth had already detected that she was gender variant. At the time, doctors determined that she had a “disturbed sense of sexual identity”. She describes her childhood as mired by bullying and exclusion as a result of her having behavioural issues and autism which were improperly tended to by her community and her schooling. As a result, she started responding to bullying with violence, which eventually raised the attention of the provincial government and got her placed in apecial education school for boys. She ended up dropping out of a school system that wasn’t suit to her needs in grade 11. This negatively affected her chances of getting stable employment, working minimum wage and casual jobs for around ten years until securing work with the TDSB.
Interviewee: Martine Stonehouse