He helped make a more inclusive Island
Ash Arsenault knew he was a boy even though he was born a girl.
Four years ago, at 23, he saved his money to pay for a surgery that was the first step in making his body feel like his own. Since then Arsenault has advocated for transgender Islanders and was part of a group that encouraged the Prince Edward Island government to cover sexual reassignment surgery.
That effort worked, and now other transgender Islanders won’t face some of the challenges he did. Gender reassignment drastically improves quality of life for many transgender people, he said.
“Studies show that in transgender people who seek surgical intervention, these procedures drastically reduce incidents of suicide as well as costs associated with mental health treatments,” Arsenault said, noting that bullying and suicide are higher in the trans community.
That’s why he worked closely with government to fund the surgery.
Growing up trans in rural Prince Edward Island wasn’t easy for Arsenault. He felt nobody understood him and didn’t talk to anyone outside his home. Puberty was the hardest part, forcing him to hide his developing breasts with tight bras and tank tops.
“It just didn’t feel right,” he said. “I thought I was a tomboy and convinced myself I would have to deal with it. But it got harder and harder to just ‘deal with it.”
He eventually underwent “top surgery” to remove his breasts and now receives weekly testosterone injections that help him grow facial hair and deepen his voice. It’s a surgery that cost him $10,000 four years ago but today is covered.
“I have met with members of the transgender community; I know how important this issue is to them,” said Health and Wellness Minister Robert Mitchell. “Gender dysphoria is a recognized medical condition that, left untreated, can result in high levels of anxiety and depression. This announcement brings us in line with what is available in most other provinces across the county.”
Arsenault says times have, thankfully, changed.
“Even five years ago I didn’t know anybody else who was out and trans,” Arsenault said. “It’s wild how much things have changed.”
Now he volunteers with youth to make sure nobody else feels alone. He gives presentations on sexual orientation and gender identity to help raise awareness and sensitivity for the LGBTQ2 community.
Despite his friends encouraging him to move to the “big city,” Prince Edward Island is where he wants to stay.
“I love it here and I don’t plan on leaving, ever,” he said. “And I feel better living in a place where everybody has access to the same medical coverage.”