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01 December 2010

Ruth Shumaker (1930 – 1983) minister, librarian, executive.

Shumaker was raised by his mother, his grandmother and an aunt. His father, frequently drunk, came and went, and died of heart disease at 54. He dropped out of school to become a factory worker, but a year later he had a religious experience, and then finished high school, went to college and became a minister.

He built his own home. He married at 24. He and his wife adopted children because of his psychological blocks about having sex as a man. After six years he resigned as minister because he found the role of minister to be too masculine.

He then did a Masters degree in Library Science, and later rose to an executive position in a large public institution.

In 1974 at age 43 he read Jan Morris' just published Conundrum, and a few months later started psychotherapy with Stephen Levine (1942 - ) at the Case Western Reserve GIC in Cleveland. As he started to consider transition, his depression lifted dramatically. A year later Shumaker started living as female, and finalized her divorce. She discussed her situation with the board of trustees and was able to transition at work. A year later Ruth had surgery. She discontinued as a patient of Dr Levine, but stayed in touch and now addressed him as Stephen.

She became unemployed. Then the depression returned, and three months later, after two lessor suicide bids she slashed her jugular with a butcher's knife. After a prolonged stay in a psychiatric hospital and surgery to remove a kidney stone, she improved and thrived. She considered that gender surgery had saved her life.

She returned to being a librarian. She coped with her failure to find a lover, one child's resentment of her change, the low pay and boredom now that she was but a librarian. She took up marathon running and was a regular church member.

In 1980 she attended to her Swiss descent. She studied German, developed a pen pal in Switzerland and changed her last name to Shumaker. In 1982 she went to visit her pen pal. She felt at home in Switzerland, and back in the US applied for immigration to Switzerland. On arrival she fell apart mentally, and again wrote to Stephen as Dr Levine.

She pleaded homesickness and returned to her ex-wife and children. She refused to contact Dr Levine, and eight days later hanged herself where she would be discovered by her ex-wife.
  • Stephen B. Levine, MD, and Ruth E. Shumaker, MALS. "Increasingly Ruth: Toward Understanding Sex Reassignment". Archives of Sexual Behavior, 12,3, 1983: 247-261.
  • Stephen B. Levine, MD. "Letter to the Editor". Archives of Sexual Behavior, 13,3,1984: 287-9.

This is almost the only article published in Archives of Sexual Behavior that is a biography of a trans person.

Levine’s comments on transsexuals in general and Ruth after her death:
“Many patients are so single-minded in their quest for surgery that they are unable to consider their other options. While surgical candidates are often decidedly articulate about their mental suffering, they are conspicuously unable to reveal much more about their inner lives. This inability is often rooted in a  developmental background that has not encouraged reflection; sometimes, however, their prior decision to undergo gender transition and SRS is a more important explanation. Constriction of the patient's capacities for self-awareness is probably required in order to accomplish this dramatic life change. Once gender  transition and surgery have been accomplished, some patients evidence new interest in their internal processes, motivations, conflicts, and developmental histories. Unfortunately, few of them are articulate enough to portray their inner experiences. 1983:248)”
“I am grateful to Ruth for what she enabled me to glimpse of her mental life.  I now have a firmer conviction that rather than calling transsexualism a disease, it should be thought of as a creative mental solution to an intrapsychic problem.  In Ruth’s case, the problem involved her inability to make a usable lasting connection to others, self-hatred, and only rarely-glimpsed anger at her parents.  Her transsexual adaptation was a highly unusual intermittently successful solution to a mundane early life disturbance in object relationships.  Ruth’s Unfortunate legacy to those who invested in her is psychologic injury due to her abandonment of them.  Ruth was always leaving in quest of home.  She knew it was just a fantasy.  Manic-depressive disease? Transsexualism? A creative talented mind coping with early life abandonment? (1984:288).

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