Transgender community struggles for medical acceptance on P.E.I.

Mitch MacDonald
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Ash Arsenault transitioning from female to male but main difficulty was been finding someone to inject testosterone, a procedure done every two weeks

Ash Arsenault is now beginning to recognize himself whenever he looks into a mirror.

The 23-year-old transgender Charlottetown resident is almost four months into the process of transitioning physically from female to male.

Testosterone injections have hardened Arsenault’s muscles, caused more hair to grow and changed his voice. However, the outward changes have only confirmed what Arsenault has felt inside for a long time.

“I just feel more comfortable when I look at myself, it’s gradually getting better and better,” he said during an interview with The Guardian.

While growing up, Arsenault said he had a strong opposition to anything female and felt like he didn’t fit in.

“I was always really shy, I didn’t like my voice or anything about my appearance,” said Arsenault, a graduate of UPEI who will soon be moving to Montreal for grad school. “I was always wanting to shop in the boys section even when I was like four or five-years-old… I always just assumed I was like a tomboy.”

It was around Arsenault’s 19th birthday when he stumbled upon a video blog of another individual’s journey of transitioning from female to male. That led Arsenault into looking deeper into the trans community.

“It just kind of clicked. I was really relating to them and I saw myself in them,” he said. “I kind of had to accept them before I could accept myself, if that makes sense. I didn’t really come out to anybody until I was 22 so there was a lot of time of just self reflection.”

While Arsenault acknowledges there is “progress to be made” around acceptance of trans individuals, he said he has never experienced any “major negative” reactions from the general public. Finding acceptance in the medical community has been a different story.

“It’s just one hoop to jump through after another. I shouldn’t have more negative reactions from people in the medical field than just from everyday people.”

The main difficulty has been finding someone to inject Arsenault with testosterone, a procedure that has to be done every two weeks.

While administered through a standard intramuscular injection, something Arsenault hopes to one day be able to do himself, he has already gone through three individuals to provide the hormone in the past three months. He now gets it administered at a clinic, which means a two-hour plus wait for a 30-second shot.

“They’re not really willing to learn or look into doing it, even though they know you can have a lot of trouble finding someone willing to do it. It does affect a lot more people than others realize.”

P.E.I. and New Brunswick are the only provinces in Canada that don’t offer some form of coverage for hormones and surgery related to gender reassignment. That can make a huge difference for Arsenault going forward, since he plans on taking testosterone for the rest of his life.

With the term of “trans” being somewhat vague, it doesn’t define one specific thing and can involve none or numerous surgeries.

Arsenault is pursuing surgery for a double mastectomy, something he is hoping to have performed in about a year from now.

While having access to hormones and surgery has been limited in P.E.I., Arsenault has also received major support since making the announcement last year.

“My brother now refers to me as his brother, it’s phenomenal. My mom has been really great with trying to help me find resources and doing some advocating for trans rights,” said Arsenault.

Arsenault and his girlfriend, who have been dating for several years, have also felt an acceptance within the LGBTQ community on P.E.I. and are planning on attending some of the events during Pride Week this week.

“We definitely enjoy all of that stuff, it just feels like a great community and we definitely feel like we're part of it.”

Geographic location: P.E.I., Charlottetown, Montreal New Brunswick Canada

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Recent comments

  • Saddened
    July 31, 2014 - 12:34

    From what I've read it sounds like a a lot more hate and judgements being passed from Ash's supporters than anyone else... calling all islanders ignorant, attacking religion, what is that? I pay taxes, part of which go to the medical system to help people who are sick and dying. Sorry Ash but you are neither sick or dying so you will have to wait in line while attention goes to those who need it more. I travelled back and forth to Halifax for Chemo treatment and am still going for appointments and will live the rest of my life knowing that cancer could come back at any time. Please please don't ever complain about the body you've got because there are millions out there with life threatening diseases. hunger, poverty, war in the middle east, and your complaining of a two hour wait to get and injection to change your body because your uncomfortable in your own skin. there are kids with leprosy which is agony 24 hours a day and no medical system to help them, they suffer until they die completely mutilated.

    • Kate
      August 01, 2014 - 00:44

      Sorry, but this is the 21st century. And this is Canada. Is it really so wrong to expect to be able to live comfortably here, beyond mere survival? Trans patients are getting the medical treatment they deserve in virtually every other province in this country. Why would you encourage them to discriminate here? You can protest and argue all you want, but if you're complaining about someone who is merely pointing out an easily fixable problem without reason, then you are just perpetuating the hate. I know him, and he works two jobs, sometimes more, in order to save up for top surgery. Do you really think he deserves to call 20 different doctors in a day and be shot down each time? How do you think that feels? Does he deserve to wait in a waiting room all evening every two weeks, all because doctors are uncomfortable with his transition and won't give him the 30 second shot, or better yet, teach him to do it himself? It is literally a simple IM injection. Something GPs and nurses are authorized to do and instruct. I, for one, believe that Ash deserves his newfound happiness. Why should he be denied that? There's no need for it. It's a biweekly shot, it has nothing to do with resource shortage and everything to do with fear and judgment. Also, the depression trans folk are often subjected to as a result of their dysphoria can be life-threatening. Is it not worth the 30 seconds to administer this young man his shot and/or show him the ropes if it means he can lead a full, happy life and contribute to society in the way I know him capable of? Please, I ask you to put yourself in his shoes and not be so quick to judge. I don't think he's asking too much.

  • Elle Joraco
    July 30, 2014 - 22:47

    The most interesting part of this I find is the article is talking about how great PEI has been and how accepting people have been... and then all the ignorant jerks in the comments try to prove that PEI is in fact not the wonderful accepting place shown in the article. Way to go Islanders, let your ignorance and intolerance shine, and then wonder why you have no jobs because no one wants to live here.

  • Trinity
    July 30, 2014 - 21:47

    To all the people mis-gendering Ash: You're despicable. Please, go back to whatever backwater hole you crawled out of. This isn't the 1800's or even 1900's anymore. We're not all in-humane/in-human yes-man that listen to an out-dated doctrine in the form of a book. While you go about spewing your non-sense about how "God" hates this and "God" hates that because it's in your little book, just remember, that there are many OTHER references in that tool of yours. PEI severely lacks in all forms of medical procedures. Power to Ash for standing up and speaking out. And a big old disgusting STARE at all the people who choose to live behind their wall of hate and prejudiced regarding anything that doesn't fit their horrible tinted rose colored glasses. I'll also take a guess and believe you're the same nay-sayers against abortion, women's rights, and anything related to helping your fellow man. Go back to your swamp, please.

  • D
    July 30, 2014 - 21:44

    I've only met you a few times, Ash, but you're really friendly and I wish you all the best! I'm so glad you're making progress in your journey!

    • Trinity
      July 30, 2014 - 21:54

      Cause those are COMPLETELY the same types of operations. I don't even. He's not even waiting for it. He's trying to get acceptance to even be allowed to have the operation. Read the article before you go collapse your other lung.

    • Trinity
      July 30, 2014 - 22:11

      whoops, missed the reply button. Wrong post!

  • Really?
    July 30, 2014 - 21:37

    I had to wait an hour and a half to get medical treatment on PEI for a collapsed lung. I'm sorry you have to wait 2 hours to get your penis. No one cares about your first world problem.

    • Jesus
      July 30, 2014 - 22:00

      Correction. YOU don't care about her medical condition and also don't know the proper use of the term "first world problem". Gender identity is a worldwide issue. So is hate.

    • Trinity
      July 30, 2014 - 22:33

      Cause those are COMPLETELY the same types of operations. I don't even. He's not even waiting for it. He's trying to get acceptance to even be allowed to have the operation. Read the article before you go collapse your other lung.

  • Ash
    July 30, 2014 - 21:24

    Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has expressed kind words of support. It's extremely touching, and I cannot express how much it means to me. This has been a long, tough road, and it's not always as easy as some may assume. I have no desire to get in any kind of argument with anyone, but I just wanted to highlight the focus of the article. This may come as a shock, but I do recognize the importance of medical care for everyone, whether it be cancer, heart disease, mental illness, you name it. All I dream of is a world where general practitioners who perform IM injections on a daily basis open their practice to trans patients. It stings a little when they turn you down time after time purely because you are trans. If I had come to them with any other IM medication, it would be no issue. All I'm suggesting is that they open their minds and their hearts a little. Fear not, I am not after your wallets. If it provides anyone with any sort of reassurance, I plan on having surgery next year, which will be paid in full by yours truly. I will work my ass off to fund it, and I want zero assistance. This means way more to me than most of you can fathom, and it will bring me great pride to do this for myself. Again, thank you all for your kindness and compassion. Happy Pride!

    • Isaac
      July 30, 2014 - 22:34

      You rock Ash, you are an inspiration!

    • Katherine
      July 31, 2014 - 13:04

      Hey Ash, you're really showing how brave you are. First for coming out and seeking the support you need and deserve, and then for daring come to the comment page of the guardian!!! :) And your post is still positive. Good for you. Always focus on those who support you and forget about those who don't. You are the only one who has a full understanding of your struggle and your life, and no one can take that away from you with their hurtful words or anything else. Good luck!

  • Jeremy
    July 30, 2014 - 20:49

    Thanks for your leadership, Ash! I wish you the very best!

  • same story
    July 30, 2014 - 20:32

    Polk what exactly is her medical need?

  • Island Girl
    July 30, 2014 - 19:51

    I think this is terrible that someone would complain about travelling for this type of surgery. What about a child with cancer that has to travel off that's where my heart and sympathy lies!

    • Jesus
      July 30, 2014 - 22:02

      It's a shame that you don't have enough room in your heart to care about this woman's struggle. I will pray for you.

    • get a clue
      July 30, 2014 - 22:07

      this is no what the article was about.

  • Unbelievable
    July 30, 2014 - 19:23

    There is absolutely no comparison between what this young man WANTS.. And what someone with a disease NEEDS! While I agree that our money should be put to better use.. This isn't one of them!

    • get a clue
      July 30, 2014 - 21:46

      nope, this is not a want, its a need.

  • a puzzle
    July 30, 2014 - 17:37

    Sadly there is really so many in need of dire medical care and services which may not be delivered here. Some cases are life threatening , the medical system is in peril , and on the edge, and the outcome does not look good. Long waits even to have an xray read, trips off island at pts expense for services or operations which are necessary like heart bypass. There is a multitude of people with varying degrees of need for even a doctor, a long registry wait, people with serious diseases who cannot afford medicines, care, or to go off island etc. I would not even know who to feel worst for. People are moving here, without researching health care, the population is aging, more people from have provinces are choosing to retire here. Something needs to be done, smartly and for everyone. Soon.

  • Eliza
    July 30, 2014 - 17:31

    I hope PEI continues not to fund self-mutilation of this sort. Cutting off breasts and penises when there is no physical reason to is not a medical necessity. It should be categorized like plastic surgery, such as breast augmentation and not covered! These individuals should be counselled to consider something other than disfiguring themselves! Nothing is stopping Ash from pursuing any career, love interest he or she likes. Why is it that Trans people seemed to have the most rigid and gendered definition of male and female dress, toys, attributes, etc.????

    • Bill McIver
      July 30, 2014 - 18:44

      Eliza, your lack of understanding and compassion is breathtaking.

    • Melissa
      July 30, 2014 - 19:26

      Some people cut their hair to look the way they want, some wear makeup, some change their clothes. Either way, we all want to look like how we feel. We want our outside to reflect who we are inside. Trans* people go through counselling before moving on to physical steps. Here in Canada we support people no matter what, or we are supposed to. It's not about careers or love, it's about being who you want to be. Ash spent a lot of time making his decision, and feeling uncomfortable in his own skin is not something anyone should live through. It is scarring to live as someone you are not. Having known him for many years, I know this is the person he is. When he announced his decision it made perfect sense. He now seems more like himself than ever. Sure, perhaps to you it seems unnecessary to go through the surgery. However, Trans people have higher chances of depression and are more likely to commit suicide. Do you think it is right for someone to live as someone they're not and be unhappy merely because you don't feel that way? Don't think of it as surgery, think of it as treatment to ensure a happy life and lower the odds of depression. You would not like it if someone denied you the right to be yourself or trying to force yourself to be someone you're not. Please just try to educate yourself and understand more about what people who are Trans go through.

  • don
    July 30, 2014 - 13:56

    born a female in Gods eyes you will always be a female till you die ash. GOD made you remember that.

    • Brad
      July 30, 2014 - 17:51

      Did "God" also make you a rude, judgemental and hateful man, Don?

    • Bill Meeker
      July 30, 2014 - 18:48

      Don, when God looks at you what do you think he sees? Certainly not a man of compassion or understanding.

    • the_dude
      July 30, 2014 - 18:51

      OH yes, the invisible man in the sky again. I'm neither transgendered or gay, or religious for that matter, but I absolutely love how you "Christians" use that guy to justify your hate. While I may not believe in the invisible man in the sky, I know many who do that are true Christians in the sense that they love everybody unconditionally and don't use the bible to justify hate. They even love people like me who don't believe in their God and people like you Don, who give all Christians a bad name.

    • Elle Joraco
      July 30, 2014 - 22:50

      I'm sure God LOVES that you're speaking for him.

    • Dot. Hack
      July 31, 2014 - 18:53

      I don't feel as though Ash's concern is how "God" may portray him, but more how he sees himself as a person. If Ash can find his happiness in looking into a mirror and no longer seeing a woman, but a man, then couldn't one say that it was "God's" plan to send him on this journey of self-discovery all along? If this is the only way for him to be happy, then I see no reason for "God" to have an issue with it.

  • BJ
    July 30, 2014 - 13:22

    You think it's is terrible that someone can have a good quality of life? Then why would you even care about cancer patients - after all, their treatments are to provide a good quality of life. Please educate yourself instead of making ignorant comments. I don't know Ash personally but I can definitely understand where he is coming from. For future reference, the article refers to Ash as HE, not SHE - so when you wrote about HER treatment, you were incorrect. Accepting details that seem so small to you, can make all the difference in the world to someone else.

  • John
    July 30, 2014 - 13:21

    Kudos to a brave young man! I'm sure you are already twice the man "enough already" is. Thanks for being a spokesperson for trans people on PEI.

  • Get a clue
    July 30, 2014 - 12:21

    It is terrible. It's terrible we live in a province where we struggle for medical support: of all types. Yes I understand that sometimes we may need to travel In order to receive care at a higher level, but it should never be at our cost. It's time pei (and Canada)a ya much much more focus on health It's not about taking "money from cancer patients", but rather it's time we start to realize that PEI needs to work harder towards putting money where it belongs For this patient it's about education and training our medical professions to deal with these kind of medical issues (and yes they are very much medical). When we lost Dr Brody, not only did families who struggle with fertility loose their support, but so did those who need hormone therapy for a variety if reasons. It's about looking at how we can get training for health care providers so that when one Dr leaves, many groups of patients don't suffer.

  • Get a clue "enough already"
    July 30, 2014 - 12:19

    It is terrible. It's terrible we live in a province where we struggle for medical support: of all types. Yes I understand that sometimes we may need to travel In order to receive care at a higher level, but it should never be at our cost. It's time pei (and Canada)a ya much much more focus on health It's not about taking "money from cancer patients", but rather it's time we start to realize that PEI needs to work harder towards putting money where it belongs For this patient it's about education and training our medical professions to deal with these kind of medical issues (and yes they are very much medical). When we lost Dr Brody, not only did families who struggle with fertility loose their support, but so did those who need hormone therapy for a variety if reasons. It's about looking at how we can get training for health care providers so that when one Dr leaves, many groups of patients don't suffer.

  • DL
    July 30, 2014 - 12:15

    Ash....thank you for sharing your story. I wish you well as you move forward with your life.

  • enough already
    July 30, 2014 - 11:29

    This is terrible. Surely money for cancer patients could be diverted to speed up her transformation!

    • would you rather
      July 30, 2014 - 12:49

      Ignorant. You should be perfectly happy to have your tax money be spent on something as worthwhile as this. I can't speak for Ash's case, but the alternative could very easily be a lifetime of depression and struggle for a trans individual. Isn't this what our healthcare system is for? To save and improve lives? In Ash's case specifically, he's got a world of smarts and cleverness in his head that I'm sure the rest of us don't. I'm not a good friend of his, but I know he's a great guy and he's going to be a great asset to society. If any of my money makes it to him, I consider it an excellent investment.

    • Anatomically Correct
      July 30, 2014 - 13:05

      That should be "HIS' transformation!

    • JDS
      July 30, 2014 - 20:42

      Very true! How selfish can people be.. All those people with broken arms, etc.. they will eventually heal, broken leg? no rush! Ash needs a neutering! .. Priorities people.. priorities!

  • R Steeves
    July 30, 2014 - 09:56

    I couldn't be more proud of you Ash.

  • Katherine
    July 30, 2014 - 09:36

    In most ways this is such a refreshing story! I'm so glad to hear that this man has the support of his family and peers that he deserves. Says to me that while society still has a lot of work to do to improve acceptance and equality, we are moving in the right direction. While not surprising, it is unfortunate that once again, PEI is one of the only provinces that will not provide or does not have the resources to provide this medical service. Our province is so behind sometimes. Hopefully we continue to move in the right direction and these services become more accessible.

    • huh
      July 30, 2014 - 15:47

      behind the times, or just broke? Its very PC to say the province should cover this and it is behind the times if it doesn't. But there are a plethora of health conditions that should be covered by healthcare. In a system that is near bankrupt, in a province whose economic growth is limited, where does the $$ come from?

    • Katherine
      July 31, 2014 - 12:57

      To "huh:" Nowhere in my comment did I say that there is not a plethora of medical conditions that should be covered, however this article is about transgender, so forgive me for commenting only on this. You're right that many other conditions should be covered and more accessible, but you are wrong about the province being broke. The problem lies in the pissing away of millions of dollars by the government on things that should not take priority over health care, such as the 30 million dollar Canada Day festival this year, or the 100,000 dollars spent on those stupid red numbers outside Province house and at the Confederation landing. PEI is extremely behind in that there is so little understanding about this and many other medical conditions, therefore not enough advocacy to get coverage. And even when there is a solid understanding of something, such as cancer treatment, sometimes it is still not covered. This is not because there is nowhere to get the funding from, this is because the government misuses money and there is not enough advocacy for medical funding from those who can actually make a difference.

  • David Polk
    July 30, 2014 - 09:19

    Time for the Province to recognize that Ash has a legitimate medical condition and that they should cover her costs appropriately.

    • Sarah
      July 30, 2014 - 20:58

      *his, not her... Preferred pronouns matter. A lot. But otherwise I completely agree!

  • Double D
    July 30, 2014 - 08:19

    Very proud of you and your bravery!